that are resistant to many chemotherapy drugs, and it may prove a life-saving addition to current cancer therapy, according to a new study in Cancer Letters.
Small-cell lung cancer is particularly difficult to treat because the cancer spreads rapidly throughout the body, rather than forming large tumors that can be removed surgically. To treat this cancer, doctors typically turn to chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells throughout the body.
Chemotherapy can have severe side effects though, because it attacks healthy cells as well as cancerous ones. And over time, lung cancer can become resistant to the effects of chemotherapy, rendering it virtually ineffective. “The chemotherapy would still work, but you’d have to use a dose that would be so toxic that the patient could not tolerate it,” explains lead study author David Sadava, PhD, Pritzker Foundation Professor of Biology at the Keck Science Center in Claremont, California and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, California.
Patients who have been told their cancer is not treatable often turn to alternative therapies, including herbs. The mushroom extract Ganoderma lucidum is one of the most popular of these herbs. It is widely available in health food stores as the Japanese herbal remedy, Reishi and the Chinese herb, Ling Zhi.
Ganoderma lucidum has been studied for its effects on leukemia, as well as on cancers of the breast, bladder, colon, and prostate. For the first time, Dr. Sadava and his team set out to investigate its effects on small-cell lung cancer. They also decided to look at 20 of the more than 250 other Ganoderma species in existence, to see if they too might have a benefit.
The researchers took extracts of these herbs and tested them on three different types of cells: drug-sensitive small-cell lung cancer, drug-resistant small-cell lung cancer, and normal lung cells. They discovered that Ganoderma lucidum, as well as eight other Ganoderma species killed lung cancer cells. Cancer cells responded to the herb much in the same way as they would react to chemotherapy drugs. Yet unlike chemotherapy drugs, which can also be toxic to healthy cells, herbal extracts were more deadly to cancer cells than to normal cells, indicating that they have some ability to specifically target cancer.
Treating the cancer cells with Ganoderma extract before administering chemotherapy drugs made the cancer more sensitive to treatment, which could potentially lower the effective dose of chemotherapy enough for patients to tolerate it, Dr. Sadava says.
Ganoderma won’t replace current therapies for small-cell lung cancer, but it can work in conjunction with chemotherapy to increase its effectiveness. Dr. Sadava believes that new treatments to combat lung cancer will be available in the near future, but in the meantime, “You have to do something as a transition measure to help these patients who are dying,” he says. “This herb, which is widely available and widely used, and has no side effects that we know of, should be considered for people who have drug-resistant lung cancer, along with chemotherapy.”
Sadava D, Still DW, Mudry RR, Kane SE. Effect of Ganoderma on drug-sensitive and multidrug-resistant small-cell lung carcinoma cells. Cancer Letters. 2009. Epub ahead of print.
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