Note: A separate PDQ summary on Prostate Cancer Treatment is also available.
PC-SPES is a patented herbal mixture that was sold as a dietary supplement and used as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment for prostate cancer. It is a combination of the following eight herbs:
- Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi).
- Chrysanthemum (Dendranthema morifolium [Ramat.] Tzvelev [synonym Chrysanthemum morifolium]).
- Ganoderma (Ganoderma lucidum [Curtis:fr] Karst.).
- Isatis (Isatis indigotica Fort.).
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra L. or Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch. ex DC.).
- Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer or pseudoginseng (Panax pseudoginseng var. notoginseng Hoo & tseng [synonym Panax notoginseng (Burkill)] F.H.Chen).
- Isodon rubescens (Hemsl.) Hara (synonym Rabdosia rubescens [Hemsl.] Hara).
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens [Bartr.] Small).
With the exception of saw palmetto, the herbs in PC-SPES have been used individually or in combination in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for a variety of health problems, including those of the prostate, for hundreds of years.[1,2]
PC-SPES is an herbal product that resulted from a collaboration between a chemist at the New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, and a Chinese herbalist and doctor of TCM in China. Their idea was to combine TCM with the scientific techniques of Western laboratory research. In the United States, a series of in vitro and in vivo laboratory studies was started on the mixture of herbs used in TCM specially formulated to treat prostate problems. Researchers published the results of these studies, which showed promising anticancer activity from PC-SPES.[3-11]
Considerable research has been conducted on the anticancer properties of the eight individual botanicals in PC-SPES.
Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)—Chinese name huang qin—contains baicalin and wogonin, two active flavones. Baicalin converts to baicalein, which is another active flavone. In vitro, baicalin and baicalein inhibit cell growth of AD LNCaP and JCA-1 AI human prostate cancer cell lines,[12,13] as well as inducing apoptosis in human LNCaP cells. Baicalin also shows antimutagenic and antioxidant activity in vitro as well as free radical scavenging ability.[15-20]
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra or Glycyrrhiza uralensis)—Chinese name gan cao—contains the very active flavonoid licochalcone A, which has demonstrated in vitro estrogenic activity. This botanical shows a broad range of anticancer activity in vitro. It enhances the cytotoxicity of commonly used anticancer drugs and induces apoptosis in MCF-7 human breast cancer and HL-60 promyelocytic leukemia cell lines.[21-24]
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum [Curtis: fr.] Karst.)—Chinese name ling zhi— has been shown to aid in the recovery of leukocyte counts in irradiated mice in a dose-dependent manner. It contains the polysaccharide G009, which has demonstrated antioxidant behavior against HL-60 cells in vitro and dose-dependent inhibition of lipid peroxidation in rat brain cells in vitro.[25-29]
Isatis (Isatis indigotica)—Chinese name da qing ve—contains active agents in each part of the plant. TCM has different names for the medicinals coming from the leaf, stem, and root and uses these plant products for different purposes. Indirubin, an active ingredient, and its analogs have demonstrated inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinases in human mammary carcinoma cell line MCF-7 in vitro.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng or Panax pseudoginseng var. notoginseng)—Chinese name tianqi—contains ginsenosides and saponins. Of the 30 ginsenosides that have been isolated from Panax ginseng, only the 20(S)-protopanaxadiol type R3 has inhibited cell growth and suppressed PSA expression, androgen receptor and 5-alpha-reductase activity, and PCNA production in vitro.[31-33]
Chrysanthemum flowers (Dendranthema morifolium)—Chinese name ju hua—contain triterpene diols and triols. Arnidiol exhibited cytotoxicity in vitro against 58 of the 60 human cancer cell lines developed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Developmental Therapeutics Program.
The botanical rabdosia rubescens (Isodon rubescens)—Chinese name dong ling cao—has two very active agents, oridonin and rubesencin b. Oridonin inhibits DNA synthesis in vitro, and rubesencin b inhibited cell growth in cancer cell lines in vitro and in a mouse model.
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is the only botanical in PC-SPES that is not used in TCM. There is strong evidence from human trials that saw palmetto has some activity against benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), including improved urine flow and less erectile dysfunction when compared with placebo or finasteride. S. repens also exhibits antiestrogenic activity in placebo-controlled BPH trials. In LNCaP cells, S. repens produced apoptosis in vitro.[36-40]
Exactly how PC-SPES works in the body is still unknown. The presence of adulterants and varying amounts of the active agents in each lot of PC-SPES complicates the interpretation of any results from studies that might lead to an explanation of its mechanisms of action. More studies of the individual components of the mixture and testing of a standard formulation that is free of adulterants are needed before any conclusions can be reached about the level of cytotoxicity, antineoplasticity, or estrogenicity of PC-SPES.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) stopped funding to studies of PC-SPES after the drug contamination was detected and made public, although the laboratory studies were later resumed.
Although manufacturers are selling supplements purporting to be substitutes, the only company that had a license from the patent holder to manufacture PC-SPES is no longer in business, and the product cannot be legally manufactured in the United States without the patent holder’s permission. PC-SPES is not legally available in the United States.
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