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

Ginseng in the management of cancer

Does it work?

For details of the included randomised controlled trials (RCT) please see Table of included studies.

Effects on survival, tumour response or performance status

A metaanalysis published in Chinese with an English abstract including seven studies with a total of 535 lung cancer patients (NSCLC) reported benefits in response rates, performance index and median survival when ginseng was added to standard chemotherapy. The authors concluded that „due to the poor quality and small sample of the included trials more large-scale multi-center randomized trials are needed“. All included studies used so called „Shenyi Capsules“ which contain „mainly ginsenoside Rg3“ according to the manufacturer.[50]

A meta-analysis of six RCTs with a total of 496 Chinese non-small cell lung cancer patients (NSCLC) treated with different chemotherapy regimen found an increased response rate [odds ratio: 2.64 (95% CI: 1.70–4.11] and disease control rate [odds ratio: 3.34 (95% CI: 1.92–5.81)] if ginsenoside Rg3 was added to chemotherapy. The authors concluded that „the available evidence suggests that Rg3 plus chemotherapy improves the response rate of NSCLC patients, and well-designed RCTs with large sample size are needed.“[51]

A further 3 RCTs which at least had an English abstract and reported on clinical outcomes were retrieved. One study reported similar survival rates in NSCLC patients after radical surgery when ginseng was compared to chemotherapy or combined with chemotherapy.[27] The second study found significantly different survival times when ginseng was compared with no treatment in advanced gastric cancer patients after surgery.[28] The third study reported no significant differences in tumour response when ginseng was added to standard chemotherapy for advanced oesophageal cancer.[29] Due to the low reporting quality and the fact that two studies were available only as abstract publications all studies were judged as being at high risk of bias.

Effects on quality of life

Three double-blind, placebo-controlled and one open-label RCT with a no treatment control group (available only as an abstract publication) reported benefits of ginseng on measures of quality of life.[29-32]

Effects on cancer-related fatigue

There is evidence from four RCTs that extracts of P. quinquefolius and of P. gin­seng can effectively reduce cancer-related fatigue (CrF).[7;30-32]

Most recent data come from a trial with 364 patients with cancer of various origin undergoing or having undergone chemotherapy with curative intent within the past 2 years and moderate fatigue lasting for at least 1 month before study entry. The data support the benefit of P. quinquefolius, 2000mg daily, against CRF with clinically meaningful results after a 8-week treatment period without discernible toxicities.[7]

Effects on infectious complications

A recent placebo-controlled trial found that P. quinquefolius could be of some benefit for respiratory infections in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Though extracts from P. quinquefolius did not significantly reduce the duration of acute respiratory infections or the use of antibiotics, the rate of moderate to severe infections and the intensity of symptoms were significantly diminished. In addition, patients who received ginseng exhibited seroconversion to common viruses more frequently.[8]

Effects on chemotherapy-associated adverse effects

One open-label trial (available only as an abstract publication)  with „Shenyi Capsules“ which contain „mainly ginsenoside Rg3“ according to the manufacturer reported lower rates of bone marrow toxicity in the ginseng group and a reduced frequency of nausa and vomiting.[29]

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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