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Table of Contents > Articles > PC-SPES: A traditional Chinese herbal ...
PC-SPES: A traditional Chinese herbal mixture for the treatment of prostate cancer

According to three recent studies, PC-SPES, a traditional Chinese herbal preparation, may alleviate symptoms of advanced prostate cancer in patients, including those who have failed conventional therapy. PC-SPES is a mixture of extracts of eight distinct herbs. Commercially available since November 1996, PC-SPES is being used more and more in conventional medicine for the treatment of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the prostate gland, a walnut-sized male sex gland that produces the thick fluid that forms part of semen. The disease can eventually spread through the blood to other organs, bones, and tissues. Fortunately, prostate cancer tends to be slow growing compared to many other cancers. For example, it is common for elderly men to have prostrate cancer without experiencing any symptoms. As many as 90 percent of all prostate cancers remain dormant and clinically unimportant for decades. However, when the disease finally does manifest itself, it can be deadly.

In the United States, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men over 50 and the second leading cause of male cancer deaths, after lung cancer. While the incidence of prostate cancer, especially among younger men, has begun to decline since 1994—largely due to early detection and more accurate screening tests, the risk remains very high for African American men. As a group, their risk for prostate cancer is 66 percent higher than it is for American men of European ancestry. On the other hand, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans have relatively low rates. Interestingly, prostate cancer is rare in many parts of Africa, with the lowest rates found in Israel, Russia, and Japan. Scientists believe that diet, stress levels, and other environmental factors may help to explain these differences.

One indication that a man may have prostate cancer is elevated Prostrate Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. When surgery and radiation therapy are not able to eliminate the cancer, doctors may attempt to reduce or eliminate the tumor through lowering male hormone levels. This entails treatment with female hormones or an operation to remove the testicles. If the approach of lowering male hormones is successful, the patient has androgen-dependent prostate cancer. If it fails, the man has androgen-independent prostate cancer, which has a poorer chance of recovery.

In a joint study by UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, doctors used PC-SPES to treat 32 patients with androgen-dependent prostate cancer and 35 patients with androgen-independent prostate cancer. Androgen is a male hormone. All those in the androgen-dependent group reported a greater than 80 percent decrease in PSA levels. More importantly, over half of those in the androgen-independent (the more severe form of prostate cancer) group reported a PSA decrease of more than 50 percent. Two other studies—one from the Brander Cancer Institute and another from Columbia University, suggest that the complex composition of herbal material found in PC-SPES may block the cancerous cell growth. In all three studies, PC-SPES seemed not only to arrest the development of the disease, but also to improve quality of life in patients suffering from advanced prostate cancer.

Since the usual treatment for prostate cancer (surgery, radiation therapy, and hormone treatment) often has undesirable side effects, PC-SPES's relatively mild side effects make it particularly appealing. In elderly men, especially, one wonders if the risks associated with conventional treatment for prostate cancer are worth the potential benefit at that point. Although the herbal mixture's effectiveness needs further validation, its apparent ability to improve quality of life and arrest cancer development without serious side effects is an important consideration. Researchers are evaluating whether PC-SPES, because of its relatively few side effects, should be the treatment of choice in situations in which the patient is already quite advanced in years. Especially in light of potentially harmful herb-herb and herb-drug interactions, further study will be needed to establish quality control, and standardization in the use of complex preparations such as PC-SPES.


Darzynkiewicz A, Traganos F, Wu J, Chen S. Chinese herbal mixture PC SPES in treatment of prostate cancer (Review). Int J Oncology. 2000;17:729-736.

Small EJ, Frohlich MW, Bok R, et al. A prospective trial of the herbal supplement PC-SPES in patients with progressive prostate cancer. Presented in part at: 1999 American Society for Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Ga.

De La Taille A, Buttyan R, Hayek O, et al. Herbal therapy PC-SPES: In vitro effects and evaluation of its efficacy in 69 patients with prostate cancer. J Urology. 2000;164:1229-1234.

Review Date: January 2001
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

Prostate Cancer

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