Chinese Herbal medicine in cancer therapy


[1] Herbal medicine is botanical medicine or phytomedicine, refers to using a plant's seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes. They can be used fresh, dried or water extracts. [2] Herbal medicine is used to prevent and treat various ailments. It is also known as herbalism, botanical medicine, medical herbalism or medicinal botany. Furthermore, the first written herbal record was in 2800 B.C., the Pen T'sao by Shennong (神農). Hence herbs have been esteemed for healing value for thousands of years. Besides, the herbs contain many ingredients and they may work together to produce a beneficial effect. Many factors determine how effective a herb will be. For example, the type of environment will affect it, how and when it was harvested and processed also affect it as well.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women of developed countries. According to Cancer Fund, breast cancer ranked as the number one cancer diagnosed in Hong Kong women, more than 2,500 new cases diagnosed every year. Furthermore, studies have found that some risk factors for breast cancer, like age, personal history of breast cancer, family history and lack of physical activity etc. One of my beloved aunties passed away from breast cancer as well, words just can not describe my feeling, and I cried my eyes out when she passed away.

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According to Breast Cancer Organizations, cancer occurs as a result of mutations or abnormal changes in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy. Normally, the cells in our bodies replace themselves through an orderly process of cell growth; healthy new cells take over as old ones die out. But over time, mutations can "turn on" certain genes and "turn off" others in a cell. That changed cell gains the ability to keep dividing without control or order, producing more cells just like it and forming a tumor. A tumor can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not considered cancerous. Because their cells are close to normal in appearance, they grow slowly and they do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous.

Breast cancer refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. Usually breast cancer either begins in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands, or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple. Less commonly, breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissues, which include the fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast. Over time, cancer cells can invade nearby healthy breast tissue and make their way into the underarm lymph nodes, small organs that filter out foreign substances in the body. If cancer cells get into the lymph nodes, they then have a pathway into other parts of the body. The breast cancer's stage refers to how far the cancer cells have spread beyond the original tumor. Breast cancer is always caused by a genetic abnormality. In addition, there are 6 different stages of breast cancer, stage 0, stage I, stage IIA and IIB, stage IIIA and operable IIC, stage IIIB and inoperable IIIC, last but not least is stage IV. It is begin at cancer has formed; end up the cancer has spread to other organs of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or even brain.

[3] Breast cancer results from exposure to endogenous or exogenous hormones that alter estrogen metabolism, since one risk factor is a greater cumulative exposure to 17β-estradiol, a potent steroid hormone produced in ovaries that induce estrogenic activity. A significant percentage of breast cancers are hormonally dependent, i.e. estrogen stimulates their growth. Estradiol binds to the estrogen receptor of cells; this complex in turn binds to and modulates the expression of estrogen-responsive genes. Women diagnosed with hormonally responsive breast cancer are routinely treated with antiestrogenic compounds, such as tamoxifen, which block the estrogen receptor and prevent binding of estradiol. Apart from these, [4] many herbs that contain phytoestrogens, such as, black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), dong quai (Angelica sinensis), red clover (Trifolium pratense), alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) etc. They are naturally occurring compounds that are structurally or functionally similar to estradiol. Moreover, phytoestrogens can affect the metabolism of estradiol or bind directly to the estrogen receptor, thereby exerting either estrogenic or anti-estrogenic effects.

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Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial herb whose roots have been used for more than 2,000 years and American ginseng and Asian ginseng are most commonly used. According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, the two main classes of ginseng include red and white, they have different biological effects. White ginseng is used over long periods to promote general health, vitality and longevity. Red ginseng provides a much stronger effect and is used for short periods to aid in disease recovery. Moreover, [5] American ginseng has been shown to stimulate estrogen-dependent cells to grow. And the ginsengs contain more than 30 chemicals, called ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are phytoestrogens found in ginseng that may be expected to have effects similar to those of soy phytoestrogens. Also, it is important in hormone driven cancers, such as, ovarian cancer which is a high ranking cancer diagnosed in Hong Kong women as well. So that the pharmaceutical properties of ginseng are attributed to an array of more than 30 ginsenosides that share a common steroid like chemical structure. Moreover, cell culture studies have demonstrated that certain ginsenosides have anticancer effects, including dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth, tumor cell toxicity, reverse transformation of tumor cells which can repair of normal cell appearance and properties, meanwhile, inhibition of tumor cell invasion which is a measure of metastatic capacity.

Besides, there are different kinds of studies indicate that ginseng may have protective effects against cancer. [6] One Korean study found that Panax ginseng had approximately half the risk of cancer as those in the preventive effects seemed to apply to all types of cancer, not just one kind. Furthermore, in a study of one type of ginsenoside, researchers showed that this component of ginseng had a suppressive effect on the growth of prostate cancer cell. In addition, a Chinese study suggests ginseng improves survival rates and quality of life for breast cancer patients. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, this population study of 1455 breast cancer patients in Shanghai found those who used ginseng (average of 1.3g of root material) before or after a breast cancer diagnosis experienced benefit. All of the women in this study received at least one type of conventional breast cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation. Accordingly, quality of life was also improved among the women who started ginseng after the diagnosis.

Just because ginseng is natural product does not mean it is safer than conventional medicines. The ingredients in ginsengs which can lead to health problems or effects. The advantages of ginseng can stimulate the bodies inside healing response in humble way. Furthermore, herbs work harmoniously with our bodies' capacity to heal, support the immune system. Besides, when ginseng given in proper dosage with professional, herbs have fewer and less harmful side effect than many conventional medicines in breast cancer. However, according to a Sports Nutrition FAQ published by UMass Amherst, one of P. ginseng's most common side effects is the inability to sleep. Other side effects can include nausea, diarrhea, headaches, epistaxis, high blood pressure and low blood pressure. On the other hand, ginseng may also lead to induction of mania in depressed patients who mix it with antidepressants. Most importantly, some ginseng may also cause allergic reactions or interact with conventional medicines in breast cancer.

Last but not least, since a woman's risk of breast cancer increases with age, the best way is all women should begin receiving screen mammograms at age 40 every years and also breast self exams and monthly. Therefore, it can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.