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Herbs and Plant Extracts for Cancer Patients

Herbs, plant extracts, botanicals, spices, and supplements are becoming increasingly popular with patients, including those struggling with serious illnesses like mesothelioma. While there are many unfounded claims about plants and herbs treating or curing cancer, these natural substances should not replace traditional medical treatment.

However, herbal treatments can be used as an integrative medical approach to treating cancer. Many supplements and herbal treatments are safe. They can also help relieve symptoms of mesothelioma and side effects of medical treatment. Always talk to your medical team about what herbs or plant extracts you would like to try. There may be unintended side effects or interactions with your medications.

Why Use Herbals?

There are many reasons cancer and mesothelioma patients may turn to natural alternative substances like herbals. Some people hold out hope for a real cure. However, it is important to remember many herbal supplements have not been studied or used in clinical trials. There are no herbals proven to actually cure cancer.

A better reason for using herbs and plants is that they can relieve symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatments, like chemotherapy. These herbal treatments can also improve overall health and well-being. From relieving nausea and reducing fatigue to helping to prevent the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs, these substances can help patients feel better life while battling cancer.


Turmeric is a spice well-known in Indian cuisine. This rich, gold-colored spice comes from the root of the turmeric plant. For cancer patients, the most important component of turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects and may be able to slow the growth of tumors. Research has also shown curcumin to help with weight loss in cancer patients.


Boswellia comes from the Boswellia serrata tree which is native to India, the Middle East, and northern Africa. Resin from this tree has long been used as a medical supplement, especially in the ancient Indian healing system Ayurveda. Studies have found that some components of Boswellia have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. One study also found Boswellia reduces swelling in the brain after radiation treatment. This could prove important for patients with brain cancer.


Also known as wormwood, Artemesia annua is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. Artemisinin, the active ingredient in the herb, is known to have anti-malarial and anti-viral effects. Some research suggests artemisia may have anticancer effects in cell lining, which would be important for those dealing with lung cancer.

Dong Quai

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

Green Tea

In China, green tea has been a popular beverage for thousands of years. Green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, the source of non-herbal teas like black, oolong, white, and green teas. EGCG, an active compound in green tea has a proven preventative effect on cancer. It may also help to block the growth of tumors. Ongoing research is focusing on how EGCG may affect treatment of various types of cancer.


The ginseng root has long been used to combat fatigue and improve energy, especially in traditional Chinese medicine. Isolated active compounds in ginseng are proven to have anticancer properties. Studies with cancer patients have found that ginseng supplementation improve reported quality of life. There is also some evidence that ginseng may boost immune system function.


Ginger root is a common culinary ingredient. It is also known for its many proven medicinal effects. For cancer patients, ginger can be useful for reducing nausea caused by treatments, especially chemotherapy. Active ingredients in ginger also have proven anticancer effects. Research has shown ginger extracts inhibit tumor cell growth in laboratory cell lines.


Fenugreek is a culinary herb from the pea family. Mainly used in India and the Middle East, fenugreek seeds are roasted and ground to make a culinary or medicinal herb. Both animal and cell line studies have shown fenugreek has anticancer properties. Evidence is limited. However, fenugreek it is often used to reduce inflammation and treat digestive issues.


Native to China and Japan, this mushroom has been researched for anticancer and immunity-boosting properties. There is evidence that maitake slows tumor growth, and may even reverse that growth. While going through cancer treatment and recovery, boosting the immune system with maitake may help patients heal more quickly and enjoy improved general health.


Astragalus is an herb also known as milk vetch. Research shows it can stimulate the immune system which may relieve the side effects of chemotherapy. In animal studies, astragalus reversed immune system suppression caused by chemotherapy. It may also help reduce chemotherapy side effects like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

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

Many herbal supplements and botanicals are safe to use. However, there may be effects and interactions that could harm you. Therefore, it is important to talk to your doctor about any herbs or supplements you are using or plan to try. The active ingredient in a supplement could interact with your other medications. Some could enhance the effects of a medication or decrease effectiveness. They may even cause a drug to become more toxic by interacting with your body’s metabolism. In some cases, a supplement may even help protect a tumor. For example,  supplements with antioxidant properties destroy free radicals created by radiation therapy. Since these free radicals are needed to kill cancer cells, certain herbal supplements could decrease the effectiveness of this treatment.

Herbals and botanicals as a complementary or alternative medicine is growing in popularity. More mesothelioma and cancer patients are turning to these natural substances to find relief from symptoms. Many also hope these substances will have an effect on tumors and cancer cells. If you are interested in trying any of these herbal supplements, talk to your medical team. It is also important to work with a professional practitioner of alternative medicine to get safe and accurate recommendations.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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