Herbal interactions with anticancer drugs: Mechanistic and clinical considerations

An Kui Yang, Shu Ming He, Liang LIU, Jun Ping Liu, Ming Qian Wei, Shu Feng Zhou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


A large number of herbal remedies (e.g. garlic, mistletoe, Essiac, Lingzhi, and astragalus) are used by cancer patients for treating the cancer and/or reducing the toxicities of chemotherapeutic drugs. Some herbal medicines have shown potentially beneficial effects on cancer progression and may ameliorate chemotherapy-induced toxicities. However, there is no or weak scientific basis for the clinical use of these herbal medicines in cancer management and almost none of these plant medicines have been tested in rigorous clinical trials. There are increased reports on the interaction of herbal medicines and anticancer drugs that is becoming a safety concern. For example, a clinical study in cancer patients reported that treatment of St John's wort at 900 mg/day orally for 18 days decreased the plasma levels of the active metabolite of irinotecan, SN-38, by 42%. In healthy subjects, 2 weeks of treatment with St John's wort at 900 mg/day significantly decreased the systemic exposure of imatinib by 32%. In women with advanced breast cancer, coadministration of garlic supplement reduced the clearance of docetaxol by 23.1-35.1%, although the difference did not achieve statistical significance. Most anticancer drugs undergo Phase I and/or II metabolism and are substrates of P-glycoprotein, breast cancer resistance protein, multidrug resistance associated proteins, and/or other transporters. Induction and inhibition of these enzymes and transporters are considered as important mechanisms for herb-anticancer drug interactions. Further studies are warranted to investigate potentially harmful herbal interactions with anticancer drugs in patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1635-1678
Number of pages44
JournalCurrent Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Organic Chemistry

User-Defined Keywords

  • Anticancer drug
  • Cytochrome p450
  • Drug resistance
  • Herb-drug interaction
  • Herbal medicine
  • P-glycoprotein
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • St john's wort
  • Toxicity


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