CHENGDU, China -- The jury is still out on whether traditional Chinese herbal medicine can counter the adverse effects of adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer.
CHENGDU, China, April 19 -- The jury is still out on whether traditional Chinese herbal medicine can counter the adverse effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer.
On the other hand, while the benefits remain questionable, the herbal concoctions don't appear do harm, according to Jing Li, M.D., of West China Hospital and Sichuan University here.
A systematic examination of seven randomized trials - all conducted in China - found herbal medicine "may offer some benefit to breast cancer patients in terms of bone marrow improvement and quality of life," Dr. Li and colleagues said in a Cochrane Collaboration review.
However, they added, "the evidence is too limited to make any confident conclusions."
The researchers called for well-designed clinical trials to look at questions of safety and efficacy of the large number of possible traditional remedies for such chemotherapy side effects. These adverse effects include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, mucositis, and myelosuppression or neutropenia.
For this review, Dr. Li and colleagues found seven randomized controlled trials involving 542 breast cancer patients undergoing or having recently undergone chemotherapy.
All compared some form of Chinese traditional herbal medicine plus chemotherapy with chemotherapy alone.
The results were not pooled, the researchers said, because few studies were identified and no more than two used the same intervention. In fact, Dr. Li and colleagues said, the seven studies used 27 different herbal medicines.
The review found:
The authors noted several limitations of the studies. All included studies were small; the patients included in individual studies had different stages of breast cancer and were subject to different diagnostic criteria; there were variations in formulae, dosages, modes of administration, duration of treatment and control interventions; and, the outcome measures were also different.
They wrote that "it was regrettable that the quality of the included trials was poor."
"How these findings may be incorporated into everyday practice is unclear," the researchers said.
On one hand, clinicians using Chinese herbs should share the data from the review with patients and support more definitive studies, they said. On the other hand, Western physicians "should not dismiss these approaches as being without theory or clinical basis" and should also support further studies.