The incidence and mortality of cancer metastasis is high. Metastasis refers to the ability of cancer to spread from its site of origin to other tissues and organs. Some chemotherapeutic agents can control the metastasis of certain types of cancer, but conventional treatments are still limited in this regard. Hence, it is not surprising that, despite the availability of these agents, many cancer patients still use traditional Chinese herbal prescriptions as adjuvants.
One of the concerns of the researchers was that the efficacy of most herbal formulations used by cancer patients has not been proven scientifically. For their study, they chose four Chinese herbal medicines to test whose anticancer activities their team has already demonstrated in previous studies. These herbs are Andrographis paniculata, Acanthopanax senticosus, Camellia sinensis, and Hedyotis diffusa.
A. paniculata, also known as Indian echinacea, has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties. A. senticosus or Siberian ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb that possesses anti-ulcer, anti-irradiation, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective activities. C. sinensis or tea tree, on the other hand, is popularly used to make Chinese tea, including white tea, black tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. C. sinensis is known for its antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, and cardioprotective properties. H. diffusa, also called the snake-needle grass, exhibits anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifibroblastic, immunomodulatory, and neuroprotective effects, according to studies.
The researchers used these four Chinese herbal medicines to make an innovative herbal formula and tested its anticancer activities on a metastatic breast cancer mice model. Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV, is breast cancer that has spread to either the nearby lymph nodes, the liver, the brain, the lungs, or the bones. Metastatic breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. (Related: Obesity can make breast cancer cells more aggressive.)
The researchers reported that their Chinese herbal formula reduced breast tumor weight and lung and liver metastasis in mice after four weeks of treatment. The formula also restored breast tumor-induced osteolysis -- pathological disappearance of bone tissue -- in mice. Additionally, they observed that the bone volume in the treated mice was comparable to that in non-tumor-bearing normal mice.
The researchers also found that the formula augmented the expression of interleukin-12 (IL-12) and prolonged the survival of mice with metastatic breast tumors. IL-12 is a potent proinflammatory cytokine that enhances the cytotoxic activities of immune cells, such as T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells) and natural killer cells. Furthermore, combining the herbal formula with doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic agent, increased its efficacy and the life span of tumor-bearing mice. The researchers reported that this combination was more effective as an anticancer treatment than doxorubicin alone.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that their Chinese herbal formula possesses antitumor, anti-metastatic, and osteoprotective activities against metastatic breast cancer. They hope that their preclinical data would eventually lead to the use of TCM as adjuvant therapy to commonly used chemotherapeutic agents.