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Milk Thistle (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 12/23/2013

Summary of the Evidence for Milk Thistle

To assist readers in evaluating the results of human studies of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for cancer, the strength of the evidence (i.e., the levels of evidence) associated with each type of treatment is provided whenever possible. To qualify for a level of evidence analysis, a study must:

  • Be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
  • Report on therapeutic outcome or outcomes, such as tumor response, improvement in survival, or measured improvement in quality of life.
  • Describe clinical findings in sufficient detail for a meaningful evaluation to be made.

Separate levels of evidence scores are assigned to qualifying human studies on the basis of statistical strength of the study design and scientific strength of the treatment outcomes (i.e., endpoints) measured. The resulting two scores are then combined to produce an overall score. A level of evidence score cannot be assigned to milk thistle because there has been insufficient clinical research to date. For an explanation of the scores and additional information about levels of evidence analysis of CAM treatments for cancer, refer to Levels of Evidence for Human Studies of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Given the limited amount of human data, the use of milk thistle/silymarin as a treatment for cancer patients cannot be recommended outside the context of well-designed clinical trials.