Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Pancreatic Cancer

A 1700-year-old Chinese herbal medicine known in the medical literature as PHY-906 has been researched in over 20 scientific studies as a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

PHY-906 is a combination of four herbs that are traditionally used to treat nausea and diarrhea. The herbs are scutellaria, licorice, jujube, and peony. As you probably guessed, traditional Chinese medicine does not refer to this combination as PHY-906. It's more commonly referred to as Huangquin Tang. Phytoceutica, a pharmaceutical firm in New Haven, Connecticut, and the School of Pharmacy at Yale developed a protocol for detecting the purity and shelf-stability of patent medicines from China made with these four herbs, and found considerable difference in the potency of products from different companies. (If you would like to check out their protocol, you can find it at http://www.cmjournal.org/content/5/1/30.) Phytoceutica then developed a process for making the herbs in a reliable potency with a pharmaceutical carrier, to make sure they get where they need to go in the digestive tract, which it patented.

This Chinese herbal medicine isn't designed to treat pancreatic cancer by itself. It's designed to make doxorubicin, thalidomide, capecitabine, gemcitabine, and oxaliplatin more bearable so the the chemotherapy can do the actual work for fighting the cancer. There's no doubt you could go to any doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and get the four herbs, probably in a form you would have to "boil up" into a tea (although these particular herbs work better if they aren't actually boiled, but rather steeped in hot water in a covered tea pot). To put it in the terms usually used by alternative medicine gurus, these herbs are a "detox" for chemo, that doesn't interfere with its anti-cancer action. The only side effect of taking these herbs, which work in a manner similar to really strong cup of tea, is that they can cause short-term, reversible constipation--which can be a very minor problem if you have been dealing with diarrhea for weeks or months!

Don't try this own your own. There aren't likely to be any bad interactions with anti-cancer drugs, but the licorice can react with drugs your doctor gives you for high blood pressure, or with steroids. But do inquire if a state-licensed practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine can work with your oncologist to use the herbs to help control the nausea and diarrhea caused by chemo. The Phytoceutica product will probably work better than herbs you brew up at home, but until it's available, your TCM practitioner may be able to help.

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