Herbs and Plant Extracts for Cancer Patients

Herbs and Plant Extracts for Cancer Patients

Herbs, plant extracts, botanicals, spices, and supplements are increasingly popular with all kinds of patients, including those struggling with serious illnesses like mesothelioma and other types of cancer. While there are some wild and unfounded claims about plants and herbs that may cure cancer or act as a treatment, these natural substances should not be used as substitutes for medical treatment.

However, herbs and plants can be an important and useful part of an integrative medical approach to treating cancer. Many are safe to take and some can help relieve symptoms of mesothelioma, side effects of medical treatment, and some may even help treat cancer. The important thing to remember is to always talk to your medical team about what herbs or plant extracts you would like to try because some may cause unintended side effects or interact with your medications.

Why Use Herbals?

There are many reasons why cancer and mesothelioma patients may turn to these natural, alternative substances. Some may hold out hope that a promise of a cure is real, but it is important to remember that many herbals and supplements have not been studied or used in clinical trials. None have been proven to be actual treatments or cures for cancer.

A better reason for using herbs and plants, and why most cancer patients turn to them, is that they can help relieve symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatments, like chemotherapy and improve overall health and well-being. From relieving nausea and reducing fatigue to helping to prevent the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs, these substances can be very useful in helping patients feel better and have a better quality of life while battling cancer.


Turmeric is a spice that is well-known in certain cuisines, such as Indian cooking. It comes from the root of the turmeric plant and is a rich, golden color. The main active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and may be able to slow the growth of tumors. Curcumin has also been found in research to reduce weight loss in cancer patients.


This herbal comes from the Boswellia serrata tree, a native of India, the Middle East, and northern Africa. The resin from the tree has long been used as a medical supplement, especially in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system. Studies have found that some of the active ingredients have anti-tumor properties and are anti-inflammatory. One study also found that it can help reduce swelling in the brain after radiation treatment for patients with brain cancer.


Also known as wormwood, Artemesia annua is an herb that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Artemisinin is the active ingredient in the herb and it is known to have anti-malarial and anti-viral effects. Some research has been done to evaluate its effectiveness in treating cancer. It has been shown to have anticancer effects in cell lines for lung cancer.

Dong Quai

Another herb from traditional Chinese medicine is dong quai, from the Angelica sinensis plant. The root is has been used for hundreds of years in both food and medicine in China, Korea, and Japan. There is evidence from modern research that dong quai can help relieve some side effects of cancer treatment. It protects against the toxicity of some chemotherapy drugs, including cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin. It may also protect against pneumonitis, the inflammation in the lungs that can be caused by radiation therapy for lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Green Tea

Green tea has been a popular beverage for thousands of years in China. It comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, the source of all types of non-herbal teas like black, oolong, and white and green teas. An active compound in green tea, called EGCG, has been found to have a preventative effect on cancer. It may also help to block the growth of tumors. More research with EGCG is ongoing to see how it may affect the treatment of various types of cancer.


The ginseng root has long been used to combat fatigue and to improve energy, especially in traditional Chinese medicine. Isolated active compounds in ginseng have been shown in research to have anticancer properties. Studies with cancer patients have found that supplementation with ginseng improves reported quality of life. Ginseng may also boost the immune system, although evidence for this is minimal.


Ginger is a root and is a well-known culinary ingredient. It is also known for its medicinal effects, many of which are proven. For cancer patients, ginger can be very useful in reducing nausea caused by treatments, especially chemotherapy. Active ingredients in ginger have also been shown to have anti-cancer effects. In laboratory cell lines, ginger extracts inhibited tumor cell growth.


Fenugreek is a culinary herb from the pea family of plants, used in India and the Middle East. The seeds are roasted and ground to make a culinary or medicinal herb. Both animal and cell line studies have shown that fenugreek has anticancer properties. It is often also used to reduce inflammation and to treat digestive issues, but evidence for these is limited.


This mushroom native to Japan and China has been researched for anticancer properties and for its ability to boost the immune system. There is evidence for both effects, including the ability to slow the growth of tumors and even to reverse tumor growth. Boosting the immune system with maituke may help cancer patients heal more quickly and enjoy better general health while going through treatment and recovery.


Astragalus is an herb that is also known as milk vetch. Research shows that it can stimulate the immune system, which may help cancer patients get relief from chemotherapy side effects. In animal studies the herb was actually shown to reverse the immune system suppression caused by chemotherapy. It may also help reduce chemotherapy side effects like fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.

Herb-Drug Interactions: The Importance of Communicating with Your Doctor

Many herbal supplements and botanicals are safe to use, but there may be effects and interactions with some of them that you are unaware of and that could harm you. It is so important to talk to your doctor about any herbs or supplements you are using or that you want to try. The active ingredient in a supplement you want to use could interact with the chemotherapy medication you are being given or with another medication. Some herbs may be appropriate for some patients, but not for others.
Some of these active ingredients can either enhance the effects of a medication or decrease the efficacy of a medication. They may even cause a drug to become more toxic because of how they interact with its metabolism in the body. In some cases a supplement may even help protect a tumor. For instance, supplements that include antioxidants destroy the free radicals created by radiation therapy that are needed to kill cancer cells.

The use of complementary and alternative medicine, including herbals, foods, and botanicals to heal from cancer and its harsh treatments is a trend that is increasing. More mesothelioma and cancer patients are turning to these natural substances to get relief and also in the hope that they will have an effect on tumors and cancer cells. If you are interested in trying some of these herbs, tell your medical team and work with a professional practitioner of alternative medicine to get the best, and safest, advice.

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