Herbs and Other Natural Compounds for Breast
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc
Brian is an author of
international renown and public speaker. He is currently
writing two books: Practical Prevention & Optimal Living
with Chinese Medicine, and Chinese Medicine and Infertility.
Brian practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine
in sunny San Diego, California.
||A returning patient called me yesterday. She was a breast
cancer survivor when I saw her as a student intern in Chinese
medical school. If I had been more confident at the time,
I would have suggested she be diligent in preventing a recurrence
of breast cancer, and explained how she might attempt that
with Chinese medicine.
Even if I had, however, she might not have followed my advice,
because Chinese medicine's credibility has yet to catch up with
its sophistication, efficacy, and research.
It's well known that acupuncture can help with palliative strategies
in cancer- for pain relief, itching relief, and nausea. The topic
examined less often is: can Chinese medicine fight cancer directly?
Many acupuncture teachers and practitioners warn us not to claim
that it can - they suggest there's some law against us treating
cancer, and you can see how reactive conservative doctors might
be to the idea. They are accustomed to having control of the treatment
of all cancer, regardless of whether they can help individual
patients, or how much damage their therapies cause. Still, there
is research and a clinical track record that suggests Chinese
medicine can do more than just reduce discomforts.
I can't resolve all by myself in this short space the political
issues and ethical issues of alternative medical treatment. But,
I suggest that if a patient who refuses conventional treatment,
then their alternative practitioners should find out everything
they can and do all they can to help the patient recover, or at
least become more comfortable.
Even in my small alternative medicine library, I have 2 books
on Chinese herbs for cancer, and a third that summarizes the research
on natural compounds used in cancer therapy. On PubMed, I found
even more scientific references about herbs and breast cancer
specifically. It's not the case that there isn't research on this
topic. Instead, as with much Chinese medicine research, the information
is either unknown, or unused by Western physicians. What follows
is a short summary of the scientific information I found (in less
than an hour) on alternative medicine and breast cancer. At the
end, I've provided some herbal formulas for practitioners.
Human Studies on Natural Compounds for Cancer Therapy:
John Boik, MacOM, LAc has contributed a weighty work called Natural
Compounds in Cancer Therapy (Oregon Medical Press, 2001). It not
only reviews hundreds of scientific references, but also explains
many specific cancer disease processes. The following human studies
are drawn from that book, but their specific references are also
Scientific research is done either in vitro (test tube), in animals,
or in humans. Knowing that any non-human research is easily discounted
by skeptics, I've chosen only the human studies. However, the
other studies are also interesting and helpful, so if you want
more, get Boik's book. All of the following are specific for breast
- 6 Bromelain tablets for 10 days corrected deficient macrophage
- Vitamin C was found to not necessarily good for breast cancer
and may actually have accelerated some patients' deaths, but
those who lived had fewer recurrences. (2,3)
- Eleuthrococcus stimulated the immune system in breast cancer
- Higher levels of fat intake in breast cancer patients was
associated with increased risks of recurrence and death. (5)
- In post mastectomy breast cancer patients, there were higher
survival rates among those who took enzymes. (6)
- Enzyme therapy also improved weight gain, fatigue, depression
and quality of life. (6)
- A diet of 20% fish oil (24g/kg) improved the anti-tumor effect
of the chemotherapy drug mitomycin due to enhanced lipid peroxidation.
[This was a combined human/animal study where human cells were
studied after transplantation to an animal] (7)
- Vitamin D3 helps chemotherapy drugs work better. (8)
Chinese herbs for Breast Cancer
I have access to three sources for Chinese herbs and breast cancer.
One is a book called Anticancer Chinese Drugs by Lien & Li,
which surveys more than 120 plants used to treat cancer, and examines
the chemical structure and effects of individual compounds from
those plants. Below are 4 compounds from this book specifically
for breast cancer. Unfortunately, none of these are among the
500 or so common Chinese herbs referred to in the standard reference,
Materia Medica, by Bensky & Barolet. Note that there are closer
to 12,000 substances called herbs used here and there in Chinese
- Labiatae I. longitubis inhibits br ca cells in vitro (Lien/Li,
- Maytansine (from maytanus oratus, serrata, buchananii, and
hookeri) prevents polymerization of tubulin to microtubules
(ibid, 85). (9)
- 9-hydroxy-2-methyl-ellipticinum (from ochrosia moorei and
borbonica) has therapeutic value in advanced breast cancer (ibid,
- In phase III clinical trials, VP-16 (from podophyllum berberidaceae)
has caused responses in a number of cancers including breast
cancer (ibid, 60). (11)
A quick search of PubMed for more research on herbs for breast
cancer yielded 4 interesting results:
- Huang lian (coptis) inhibited tumor growth (gastric, colon,
breast)... "These results indicate that traditional Chinese
herbs may represent a new source of agents designed for selective
inhibition of cyclin dependent kinases in cancer therapy."
- Hemsleya amabilis extract significantly inhibited tumor cell
growth and colony formation and promoted tumor cell death.(13)
- Triptolide (TPL), a diterpenoid triepoxide purified from the
Chinese herb Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F, in vitro inhibited
the proliferation and colony formation of tumor cells and the
antitumor effect of TPL was comparable or superior with that
of conventional antitumor drugs, such as Adriamycin, mitomycin,
and cisplatin. (14)
- Huang qi root specifically inhibits gastric cancer cells growth
in vitro - its mechanism is mainly inhibition of cancer cell
growth, not attacking or dismantling of existing cancer cells.
Chinese Herbal Formulas for Breast Cancer (For Practitioner
My final source is a book called Treating Cancer with Chinese
Herbs (Hsu, Ohai Press, 1990). This book is mainly for practitioners
to learn from and use. It is not scientifically referenced - of
course, some Chinese physicians and writers are not familiar with
the Western insistence on always quoting your sources, so some
of this information may have science behind it. We just can't
tell from Hsu's book.
Basic breast cancer formula (Hsu, 85):
pu gong ying 15g
solanum lyratum thunb 15g
zi cao / lithospermum 15g
chuan shan jia / anteater scales 15g
xia ju cao / prunella 30g
gua lou / trichosanthes 12g
wang bu liu xing / vaccaria 12g
orange leaves 9g
bei mu / fritillaria 9g
Another formula from 1970:
Dang gui 30
Gua lou / trichosanthes 60
Huang qi 15
bai zhi 15
jie geng / platycodon 15
pu gong ying 9
zi hua di ding 9
gui zhi 9
yuan zhi / polygala 9
zhen zhu 6
bai shao 6
gan cao 6
For pus, fistula, new tissue growth, and recovery, hua yen
Ren shen 30
Huang qi 30
Jin yin hua 30
Bai zhu 60
Qian cao gen / madder 6
fu ling / hoelen 9
Combine the juice of 90g of fresh asparagus (or 30g peeled) with
yellow wine (a traditional Chinese wine made from rice) once a
day.. This is a "kitchen remedy" patients can make at
Another herbal approach is traditional pattern differentiation.
Each patient should be diagnosed and treated individually with
Chinese medical pattern differentiation. Here is a kampo (Japanese
1. For blood stagnation in the lower abdomen, gui zhi fu ling
2. For extravasated blood in the lower abdomen, tao he cheng qi
3. For chronic breast diseases, tzu ken mu li tang (lithospermum
and oyster shell) - don't use #1 or #2
4. If none of the preceding work, or for swollen lumps due to
qi stagnation or idiopathic
obstinate swollen lumps, shih liu wei liu chi yin (tang kuei 16
dang gui 3
she chuang zi / cnidium 3
bai shao 3
gui zhi 3
ren shen 3
jie geng / platycodon 3
bai zhi 2
huang qi 2
sha ren 2
wu yao / lindera 2
hou po / magnolia 2
chih ko 2
bing lang / areca seed 2
zi su ye / perilla 2
fang feng / siler 2
gan cao 2
- Eckert K, Grabowska E, Stange R, et al. Effects of oral bromelain
administrations on the impaired immunocytoxicity of mononuclear
cells from mammary tumors. Oncol Rep 1999 Nov-Dec; 6(6):1191-9.
- Poulter JM, White WF, Dickerson JW. Ascorbic acid supplementation
and five year survival rates in women with breast cancer. Acta
Vitaminol Enzymol 1984; 6(3):175-82.
- Murata A, Morishige F, Yamaguchi H. Prolongation of survival
times of terminal cancer patients by administration of large
doses of ascorbate. Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl 1982; 23:103-13.
- Kupin VI, Polevaia EB. [Stimulation of the immunological reactivity
of cancer patients by Eleuthrococcus extract.] Vopr Onkol 1986;
- Saxe GA, Rock CL, Wisha MS, Schottenfield D. Diet and risk
for breast cancer recurrence and survival. Breast Cancer Res
Treat 1999 Feb; 53(3):241-53.
- Klaschka F. Oral Enzymes in Oncology: Clinical studies on
Wobe-MuGos. MUCOS Pharma GmbH, 1997. http://www.mucos.de
- Shao Y, Pardini L, Pardini RS. Dietary menhaden oil enhances
mitomycin C antitumor activity toward human mammary carcinoma
MX-1. Lipids 1995 Nov; 30(11):1035-45.
- This refers to 7 studies, referenced in shorter style: Ravid
A. Cancer Res 1999 Feb 15; 59(4):862-7. Studzinski GP. J Natl
Cancer Inst 1986 Apr; 76(4):641-8. Moffatt KA. Clin Cancer Res
1999 Mar; 5(3):695-703. Vink-van Wijngaarden T. Breast Cancer
Res Treat 1994 Feb; 29(2):161-8. Saunders DE. Gynecol Oncol
1993 Nov; 51(2):155-9. Cho YL. Cancer Res 1991 Jun 1; 51(11):2848-53.
Tanaka H. Clin Orthop 1989 Oct; (247):290-6.
- There were promising Phase I trials on maytansine against
breast cancer in the 1980's, but phase II trials were disappointing.
Newer developments are reported in this
- Juret P, Heron JF, Couette JE, Delozier T, Le Talaer JY. Hydroxy-9-methyl-2-ellipticinium
for osseous metastases from breast cancer: a 5-year experience.
Cancer Treat Rep. 1982 Nov; 66(11): 1909-16.
- Slayton RE, Blessing JA, Delgado G. Phase II trial of etoposide
in the management of advanced or recurrent endometrial carcinoma:
a Gynecologic Oncology Group Study. Cancer Treat Rep. 1982 Aug;
66(8): 1669-71. No abstract available.
- Li XK, Motwani M, Tong W, Bornmann W, Schwartz GK. Huanglian,
A chinese herbal extract, inhibits cell growth by suppressing
the expression of cyclin B1 and inhibiting CDC2 kinase activity
in human cancer cells. Mol Pharmacol. 2000 Dec; 58(6): 1287-93.
- Wu J, Wu Y, Yang BB. Anticancer activity of Hemsleya amabilis
extract. Life Sci. 2002 Sep 20; 71(18): 2161-70.
- Yang S, Chen J, Guo Z, Xu XM, Wang L, Pei XF, Yang J, Underhill
CB, Zhang L. Triptolide inhibits the growth and metastasis of
solid tumors. Mol Cancer Ther. 2003 Jan; 2(1): 65-72.
- Lin J, Dong HF, Oppenheim JJ, Howard OM. Effects of astragali
radix on the growth of different cancer cell lines. World J
Gastroenterol. 2003 Apr; 9(4): 670-3.