ASCO: Ginseng, Flaxseed May Help Cancer Patients

But another study dampens enthusiasm for the use of shark cartilage against lung tumors

MONDAY, June 4 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are discovering glimmers of hope in alternative therapies for various cancers. Two studies presented Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago found some promise in ginseng for easing cancer-linked fatigue and flaxseed for the treatment of prostate cancer. A third study, however, seems to shut the door on shark cartilage's potential for treating lung cancer.

In one study, Duke University researchers randomized 161 men scheduled to undergo prostatectomy to one of four groups: regular diet; 30 grams of flaxseed daily for a month prior to surgery; restriction of dietary fat; and flaxseed and restriction of dietary fat.

Men who were taking flaxseed, in either the low-fat or normal diet group, had the slowest rate of tumor growth.

In another early study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that the herb ginseng may help alleviate fatigue in cancer patients.

Close to 300 patients were randomized to receive 750 milligrams, 1,000 mg or 2,000 mg of ginseng a day or a placebo. Participants had different types of cancer and were either in treatment or had completed treatment and had a life expectancy of at least six months. All had a history of fatigue. The herb used in the study was Wisconsin ginseng.

About one-quarter of patients in the 1,000-mg and 2,000-mg groups reported "moderately better" or "much better" fatigue levels compared with just 10 percent in both the 750-mg and placebo groups, the researchers found.

On a more negative note, shark cartilage appeared to have no benefit on advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

This trial, the first of its kind, looked at an actual drug in development, AE-941 (Neovastat), not an over-the-counter supplement. The drug was developed by AEterna Zentaris, which funded the trial in concert with the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI).

For this phase III study, initiated at the request of the NCI, almost 400 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients underwent chemotherapy and chemo-radiation and were then randomized to receive either shark cartilage or a placebo, both in the form of a liquid taken twice daily.

After a follow-up of almost four years, researchers could find no statistically significant difference in survival between patients taking shark cartilage (14.4 months) and those receiving a placebo (15.6 months).

The company has stopped development of the product.

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