Using Chinese herbs either alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy may help protect a breast cancer patient's bone marrow and immune system, as well as improving the woman's overall quality of life.
Sixty percent of women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer experience a range of significant short term side effects. These include nausea, vomiting and fatigue, as well as inflammation of the gut lining, decreased numbers of red and white blood cells and decreased numbers of blood platelets.
Chinese medicinal herbs include mixtures of herbal compounds or extracts from herbs, and they are prescribed to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy. This Cochrane Systematic Review set out to see if there is conventional evidence indicating that these medicines are safe and whether there is evidence that the medicines are effective.
The researchers identified seven randomised studies involving 542 patients with breast cancer. By analysing these data, the researchers concluded that there was no evidence that the Chinese medicinal herbal treatment caused harm, and some evidence that it might reduce side effects.
"Further trials are needed before the effects of traditional Chinese medicines for people with breast cancer can be evaluated with any real confidence," says Assistant Professor Jing Li, who works at the Chinese Cochrane Centre in Chengdu, China.
Editorial comment from Lillie Shockney at Johns Hopkins—it isn’t wise however to consider using “only Chinese herbs” for breast cancer treatment. Traditional treatments are still the standard of care.
The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2007 (http://www.cochrane.org)