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Herbal Combination Improves Quality of Life for Prostate Cancer Patients

In an open clinical trial of 16 men with advanced metastatic prostate cancer, the herbal combination PC-SPES improved quality of life and caused significant reductions in pain and levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), with no major side effects (Pfeifer et al., 2000). The researchers decided to test PC-SPES in patients whose hormone therapy had failed and whose disease was progressing after receiving "numerous anecdotal reports" of benefit from the supplement.

The PC-SPES formula is a dietary supplement composed of eight herbs: Chrysanthemum flowers (Chrysanthemum morifolium Ramat., Asteraceae); reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum [Leyss. ex Fr.,] P. Karst. Ganodermataceae); licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra L., Fabaceae); dyer's woad (Isatis indigotica L., Brassicaceae); sanchi ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng Wallich, Araliaceae); Rabdosia rubescens (Blume) Hassk., Lamiaceae; baikal skullcap root, or huang qin (Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi., Lamiaceae); and saw palmetto fruit (Serenoa repens [Bartram] Small, Arecaceae).

In the study, the supplemental PC-SPES therapy consisted of three capsules three times a day (total 2.88 grams daily) of the herbal formula for five months. Hormone therapy was continued throughout the trial. Urologists and anesthesiologists at three different clinics in Germany and the United States evaluated the effects of PC-SPES on pain, quality of life, and PSA levels. Clinical testing at all clinics included physical exams, blood chemistry, and blood cell count, plus assessment of PSA level, pain, quality of life, and toxicity.

The results were positive. Pain scores for each category of pain decreased significantly, and those who were taking narcotics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain control before the study were able to reduce their pain relief medication by around 40 percent after 20 weeks of treatment with the herbal supplement. Quality of life was evaluated with a standard questionnaire that assesses physical, emotional, social, and functional well-being. PC-SPES was associated with significant improvements in functional, emotional, and physical well-being, although there was no significant change in social well-being. Finally, PSA levels - a marker for prostate cancer activity - dropped dramatically after PC-SPES supplementation. Compared with the control level, the decrease in PSA level was more than 50 percent in 13 of 16 patients, a result that the researchers believe "indicates that PC-SPES is effective."The investigators were also especially impressed with "the highly significant reduction in reported pain." The product itself was tested and found to be free of any non-herbal pain-relieving substances. In addition, there was a decrease in the spread of bone lesions in three patients, which could indicate that PC-SPES has a direct anti-tumor effect. In terms of side effects, half of the participants experienced breast tenderness, and one patient developed mild stomach upset, which, according to the authors, "suggests that PC-SPES has a low side-effect profile."

As researchers often do, the authors recommended that more research is needed, especially in light of the fact that eight of the original patients "are still enjoying the beneficial effects of PC-SPES, long after the 20 week follow-up." They concluded, "...PC-SPES significantly reduces PSA levels and the pain of metastatic disease, thereby improving patients' quality of life without the detrimental side-effects seen with other drug regimens. With no cure currently available for these patients, maintaining a good quality of life is a realistic therapeutic goal that can be achieved with the dietary supplement PC-SPES."

- Rob McCaleb, Herb Research Foundation [Pfeifer BL, Pirani JF, Hamann SR, Klippel KF. PC-SPES, a dietary supplement for the treatment of hormone-refractory prostate cancer. BJU International 2000; 85: 481-483.]

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