Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER
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General Information

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.[14] 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.[21] 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.[2] 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.[30]

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.[34]

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,[1] and rubesencin b inhibited cell growth in cancer cell lines in vitro and in a mouse model.[35]

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.


  1. Huang KC, Williams WM: The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, Fl: CRC Press, 1998.
  2. Zhu YP: Chinese Materia Medica: Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Applications. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Harwood Academic, 1998.
  3. Halicka HD, Ardelt B, Juan G, et al.: Apoptosis and cell cycle effects induced by extracts of the Chinese herbal preparation PC SPES. Int J Oncol 11: 437-48, 1997.
  4. Hsieh T, Chen SS, Wang X, et al.: Regulation of androgen receptor (AR) and prostate specific antigen (PSA) expression in the androgen-responsive human prostate LNCaP cells by ethanolic extracts of the Chinese herbal preparation, PC-SPES. Biochem Mol Biol Int 42 (3): 535-44, 1997. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Chenn S: In vitro mechanism of PC SPES. Urology 58 (2 Suppl 1): 28-35; discussion 38, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Hsieh TC, Wu JM: Mechanism of action of herbal supplement PC-SPES: elucidation of effects of individual herbs of PC-SPES on proliferation and prostate specific gene expression in androgen-dependent LNCaP cells. Int J Oncol 20 (3): 583-8, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  8. Kubota T, Hisatake J, Hisatake Y, et al.: PC-SPES: a unique inhibitor of proliferation of prostate cancer cells in vitro and in vivo . Prostate 42 (3): 163-71, 2000. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  10. Marks LS, DiPaola RS, Nelson P, et al.: PC-SPES: herbal formulation for prostate cancer. Urology 60 (3): 369-75; discussion 376-7, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  11. Pirani JF: The effects of phytotherapeutic agents on prostate cancer: an overview of recent clinical trials of PC SPES. Urology 58 (2 Suppl 1): 36-8, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
  12. Huerta S, Arteaga JR, Irwin RW, et al.: PC-SPES inhibits colon cancer growth in vitro and in vivo. Cancer Res 62 (18): 5204-9, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  13. Schwarz RE, Donohue CA, Sadava D, et al.: Pancreatic cancer in vitro toxicity mediated by Chinese herbs SPES and PC-SPES: implications for monotherapy and combination treatment. Cancer Lett 189 (1): 59-68, 2003. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  17. Kimura Y, Matsushita N, Okuda H: Effects of baicalein isolated from Scutellaria baicalensis on interleukin 1 beta- and tumor necrosis factor alpha-induced adhesion molecule expression in cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells. J Ethnopharmacol 57 (1): 63-7, 1997. [PUBMED Abstract]
  18. Hsieh TC, Lu X, Chea J, et al.: Prevention and management of prostate cancer using PC-SPES: a scientific perspective. J Nutr 132 (11 Suppl): 3513S-3517S, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  19. Ikezoe T, Chen SS, Heber D, et al.: Baicalin is a major component of PC-SPES which inhibits the proliferation of human cancer cells via apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. Prostate 49 (4): 285-92, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
  20. Hsu SL, Hsieh YC, Hsieh WC, et al.: Baicalein induces a dual growth arrest by modulating multiple cell cycle regulatory molecules. Eur J Pharmacol 425 (3): 165-71, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  22. Armanini D, Bonanni G, Palermo M: Reduction of serum testosterone in men by licorice. N Engl J Med 341 (15): 1158, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
  23. Rafi MM, Vastano BC, Zhu N, et al.: Novel polyphenol molecule isolated from licorice root (Glycrrhiza glabra) induces apoptosis, G2/M cell cycle arrest, and Bcl-2 phosphorylation in tumor cell lines. J Agric Food Chem 50 (4): 677-84, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  25. Wang ZY, Nixon DW: Licorice and cancer. Nutr Cancer 39 (1): 1-11, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
  26. Bao XF, Wang XS, Dong Q, et al.: Structural features of immunologically active polysaccharides from Ganoderma lucidum. Phytochemistry 59 (2): 175-81, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  27. Chen WC, Hau DM, Lee SS: Effects of Ganoderma lucidum and krestin on cellular immunocompetence in gamma-ray-irradiated mice. Am J Chin Med 23 (1): 71-80, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
  28. Hsu HY, Lian SL, Lin CC: Radioprotective effect of Ganoderma lucidum (Leyss. ex. Fr.) Karst after X-ray irradiation in mice. Am J Chin Med 18 (1-2): 61-9, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
  29. Lee JM, Kwon H, Jeong H, et al.: Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and oxidative DNA damage by Ganoderma lucidum. Phytother Res 15 (3): 245-9, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  37. Di Silverio F, D'Eramo G, Lubrano C, et al.: Evidence that Serenoa repens extract displays an antiestrogenic activity in prostatic tissue of benign prostatic hypertrophy patients. Eur Urol 21 (4): 309-14, 1992. [PUBMED Abstract]
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  • Updated: January 7, 2015