Feature Archive

Alternative Cancer Therapies Go Mainstream

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Despite decades of searching, scientists are still struggling to find a cure for cancer. And though some conventional treatments can slow the spread of the disease, many are highly toxic and have harsh side effects. So it's no surprise that six of 10 people with the disease try some form of alternative (also called complementary) therapy, according to a survey by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which was published in the May 2000 issue of the journal Oncology Nursing Forum. Partly because so many patients are turning to alternative approaches, mainstream researchers are beginning to put these unproven therapies to the test in carefully controlled studies. Here are some of the most popular.

PC-SPES

What it is: A mixture of eight Chinese herbs purported to treat prostate cancer.

Summary: The "natural" mixture was shown to be contaminated with synthetic drugs.

The evidence: In the Sept. 4, 2002, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analyzed eight lots of PC-SPES produced between 1996-2001. All lots contained various concentrations of the drugs Coumadin, Indocin, and DES. Coumadin is a blood thinner, and Indocin and DES have shown cancer-fighting properties.

Side effects and cautions: In a study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine on September 17, 1998, all men who tried PC-SPES experienced some breast tenderness and loss of libido. The synthetic drugs in PC-SPES could interfere with other drugs being taken.