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Traditional Chinese herbal medicine is often used in combination with Western medicine. For advanced lung cancer, chemotherapy and radiation therapy have limited effectiveness and high toxicity. Adverse effects of these Western treatments include nausea, vomiting, anemia, and immune system damage. In China, patients are commonly treated with platinum-based chemotherapy plus traditional herbs intended to reduce the side effects and enhance the curative effects of the chemotherapy. The English language medical literature contains recent reports of successful clinical trials of combination Chinese and Western medicine for cancer.
One of the most widely studied Chinese herbal treatments for advanced lung cancer is shenzi fuzheng. This is an injection formulated from astralagus root and Codonopsis pilosula root. Reference 1 describes a meta-analysis of 29 studies on a total of 2,062 patients. The results demonstrated better results for patients who received shenzi fuzheng in addition to chemotherapy in terms of:
1. Tumor response rate
2. Performance status
3. Adverse effects quantified by white blood cell and platelet toxicity, hemoglobin toxicity, nausea, and vomiting
Reference 2 reported promising results for an herbal formula called HangAm-Dan, containing the following: Coisis semen, Panax notoginseng radix, Hippocampus kelloggii, Cordyceps militaris, Santsigu tuber, Ginseng radix, Bovis calculus, Margarita, and Moschus. HangAm-Dan was taken orally, alone or in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy, by 74 patients. The authors recommended further studies with larger groups.
Reference 3 is a review of oral Chinese herbal medicine in general for lung cancer patients who are also treated with chemotherapy. The authors of this British study concluded that Chinese medicine may improve the quality of life for these patients.
In the United States, the place to go for Chinese herbal medicine is a licensed acupuncturist. Your oncologist will want to know what herbal therapies you are taking.