Herbal Remedies in the United States: Potential Adverse Interactions With Anticancer Agents

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Interest in the use of herbal products has grown dramatically in the Western world. Recent estimates suggest an overall prevalence for herbal preparation use of 13% to 63% among cancer patients. With the narrow therapeutic range associated with most anticancer drugs, there is an increasing need for understanding possible adverse drug interactions in medical oncology.


In this article, a literature overview is provided of known or suspected interactions of the 15 best-selling herbs in the United States with conventional allopathic therapies for cancer.


Herbs with the potential to significantly modulate the activity of drug-metabolizing enzymes (notably cytochrome P450 isozymes) and/or the drug transporter P-glycoprotein include garlic (Allium sativum), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), ginseng (Panax ginseng), St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), and kava (Piper methysticum). All of these products participate in potential pharmacokinetic interactions with anticancer drugs.


It is suggested that health care professionals and consumers should be aware of the potential for adverse interactions with these herbs, question their patients on their use of them, especially among patients whose disease is not responding to treatments as expected, and urge patients to avoid herbs that could confound their cancer care.

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