Today, there are many treatment options available for women with breast cancer. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy. Oftentimes, patients receive a combination of any of these treatments. The type of breast cancer as well as the extent of metastasis ultimately determines which treatments are recommended to a patient.
But in recent years, healthcare practitioners have noticed a shift in patient preference from conventional therapies to alternative treatments. This is due to the adverse effects associated with modern therapies, particularly chemo and radiation therapy. On the other hand, natural alternatives like herbal medicines have shown comparable efficacy in several studies, with the added benefit of fewer and less severe side effects.
In a recent study, Taiwanese researchers investigated the efficacy of one such alternative medicine -- a new Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula called T33 -- against breast cancer. Using mice and different breast cancer cell lines, they also explored the molecular mechanisms involved in T33's anti-cancer effects. The researchers reported their findings in an article published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
For over two millennia, the Chinese people have relied on TCM herbs to treat various diseases, including cancer. These natural products have also been the focus of many recent studies that are hoping to find new and more effective anti-cancer agents. Because the plants used in TCM produce a variety of compounds with exceptional properties, they have become increasingly popular sources of alternative medicines.
T33 is a newly formulated anti-cancer treatment that's based on an old formula known as gan sui ban xia tang. The latter consists of four medicinal herbs, namely, the root tuber of Euphorbia kansui (euphorbia), Paeonia lactiflora (Chinese peony), the tuber of Pinellia ternata (crow-dipper) and the root and rhizome of Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Chinese licorice). T33 contains these four herbs as well as Rheum rhabarbarum, or garden rhubarb.
Prior studies have already demonstrated that Chinese peony and Chinese licorice have anti-cancer properties that make them effective against breast cancer. While Chinese peony inhibits the expression of HIF-1a, a protein that promotes breast cancer metastasis, Chinese licorice and its active component, isoliquiritigenin, reduce the ability of tumor-associated immune cells to promote breast cancer cell migration. (Related: Alternative therapies for breast cancer.)
Some compounds in euphorbia have also been reported to stop cancer growth and trigger apoptosis, or cell suicide, in human gastric cancer cells. Rhubarb, meanwhile, contains a compound called N-oxalylglycine (NOG) that inhibits the activity of enzymes involved in cancer development. In TCM, the dried tuber of crow-dipper is widely used to treat cancer.
To evaluate the effects of T33 on human breast cancer, the researchers treated human mammary cells (HMEpiC), invasive ductal (breast) carcinoma cells (MDA-MB231) and breast cancer cells (MCF-7) with different concentrations of T33. They then analyzed the formula's biological properties using MTT and transwell migration assays.
To determine the involvement of autophagy -- the natural process by which cells get rid of dysfunctional or damaged components -- in T33-induced death of breast cancer cells, the researchers performed immunofluorescence staining using antibodies specific to markers of autophagy. They also generated tumor xenografts by injecting either MDA-MB231 or MCF-7 cells subcutaneously into mice.
The researchers found that both low (0.1?mg/mL) and high (10?mg/mL?) concentrations of T33 significantly inhibited the proliferation and invasion of breast cancer cells. Treatment with 2.5?mg/mL, 5?mg/mL and 10?mg/mL?T33 also induced significant autophagy. In vivo, both low (200?mg/kg) and high (600?mg/kg) doses of T33 inhibited the proliferation of xenografted breast cancer cells in nude mice.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that T33 has huge potential as a treatment for breast cancer because of its anti-proliferative and autophagy-promoting properties.