Written by Markus Horneber and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated October 20, 2014

Ginseng in the management of cancer

Abstract and key points

  • Asian and American ginseng (P. ginseng and P. quinquefolius) are frequently used medicinal plants
  • Evidence is available that ginseng helps against cancer-related fatigue
  • Preliminary evidence suggests a benefit of ginseng against infections complications
  • Evidence that ginseng works as an anti-cancer agent or protects from chemotherapy-asso­ciated adverse effects is weak
  • P. ginseng and P. quinquefolius appear to be well tolerated

This summary reports on the most prevalently used species of the genus Panax (C. Lin­naeus): Korean or Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

Ginseng is claimed to be an adaptogen, which enhances the “state of non-specific re­sis­tance” in stress. Ginsenosides, which are steroid glycosides comprising of a sugar and a triterpene part are the putative main active compounds of ginseng.

In traditional medicine it is used as a tonic for strengthening and invigoration in cases of fatigue and weakness as well as for reduced performance and concentration. In some countries, preparations of Asian and American ginseng are available as licensed drugs.

There is evidence from several randomized controlled trials that extracts from both ginseng species helps against cancer-related fatigue. Preliminary evidence suggests that P. quinquefolius might be of benefit to prevent respiratory infections in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. The evidence that extracts from Panax species prolongs survival, has impact on tumour response, reduces chemotherapy-associated adverse effects or increases quality of life is weak. Ginseng is usually well tolerated with only minor and easily reversible adverse ef­fects.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of herbal medicine at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

Citation

Markus Horneber, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Ginseng (Panax ginseng, P. quinquefolium) [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Ginseng-Panax-ginseng-P.-quinquefolium. October 20, 2014.

Document history

Summary revised and updated in October 2014 by Markus Horneber.
Summary first published in July 2007, authored by Irene Fischer, Markus Horneber, Katja Boehm.

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