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Chinese medicinal herbs for the treatment of side-effects from chemotherapy in breast cancer patients

Zhang M, Liu X, Li J, He L, Tripathy D
Published Online: 
21 January 2009

Chinese medicinal herbs (CMH) include any mixture of herbal compounds and decoction (the process by which herbs are boiled and remaining liquid used for health purposes), including the development of herbal formulae and injections, and capsules. Although CMH are used to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy (cancer treatment with chemical agents that are selectively destructive to malignant cells and tissues) in patients being treated for cancer, the evidence for their use for women with breast cancer has not been ascertained. The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of CMH in alleviating chemotherapy-induced short term side effects for women either undergoing chemotherapy or having recently undergone chemotherapy. Short term side effects are those that occur during the course of the treatment and generally resolve within months of the completion of the therapy and affect up to 60% of patients.They include nausea and vomiting, mucositis (inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract from the mouth down to the anus caused by chemotherapy); neutropenia (a decrease in white blood cells caused by chemotherapy); myelosuppression (a condition in which bone marrow activity is decreased, resulting in fewer red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets), and fatigue (loss of energy and tirdness). This review found seven randomised studies involving 542 breast cancer patients addressing this question. These studies used six different herbal remedies to treat the side effects of chemotherapy, all used CMH plus chemotherapy as the intervention compared with chemotherapy alone. The results suggest that using Chinese herbs in conjunction with chemotherapy or CHM alone may be beneficial in terms of improvement in marrow suppression and Immune sytstem, and may improve overall state of quality of life. However, further trials are needed before the effects of TCM for people with breast cancer can be evaluated with any real confidence.There was no evidence of any harms of CMH.

This record should be cited as: 
Zhang M, Liu X, Li J, He L, Tripathy D. Chinese medicinal herbs to treat the side-effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004921. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004921.pub2
Assessed as up to date: 
15 February 2007