Most of the clinical trials on astragalus were conducted in China using multiple-herbal formulas that contain astragalus as the major component. The selection of herbs is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Wu P, Dugoua JJ, Eyawo O, Mills EJ. Traditional Chinese Medicines in the treatment of hepatocellular cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Aug 12;28:112.
This analysis included 45 randomized controlled trials of oral TCM preparations for hepatocellular cancers and involved 3,236 patients. Survival, tumor response, and performance scores were examined. The authors report that products containing ginseng, astragalus and mylabris had a larger treatment effect (OR 1.34, 95% CI, 1.04-1.71, P = 0.01) than the pooled broad estimate. They observed a similar pattern for astragalus-based treatments (OR 1.35, 95% CI, 1.001-1.80. P = 0.048).
Astragalus and other TCM products may be effective against hepatocellular cancers. However, the methodology of trials was poor; all the studies were conducted in China and publication bias in favor of only positive reports is likely. The results should be evaluated in well designed trials.
This study included 136 patients with confirmed non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLS). Patients were randomized to receive vinorelbine and cisplatin (VC) or VC combined with astragalus polysaccharide APS (VC-APS). Following 3 cycles of treatment, significant differences were observed in overall quality of life (P = 0.003), physical function (P = 0.01), fatigue (P < 0.001), nausea and vomiting (P < 0.001), pain (P = 0.007), and loss of appetite (P = 0.023) between the two groups. Median survival time was 10.7 and 10.2 months (P = 0.76) in VC-APS arm and VC arm, with 1-year survival rates of 35.3 and 32.4% (P = 0.717), respectively.
Astragalus polysaccharide injection combined with vinorelbine and cisplatin may help improve quality of life in patients with NSCLC. However, there was no significant improvement in tumor response or survival rates.
McCulloch M, et al. Astragalus-based Chinese herbs and platinum-based chemotherapy for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer: Meta-analysis of randomized trials. J clin Oncol 2006;24(3):419-430.
This analysis sought to determine whether Chinese herbal medicine containing Astragalus increases the effectiveness of platinum-based chemotherapy for advanced non-small-cell-lung cancer. Thirty-four randomized studies involving 2,815 patients were analyzed. Results suggest that when used in conjunction with platinum-based chemotherapy, Astragalus-based medicine improved survival, tumor response, performance status, and reduced chemotherapy toxicity when compared with chemotherapy alone.
However, the low quality of the studies analyzed is a drawback and the results are therefore, not conclusive. Well-designed studies are warranted.
Taixiang W, et al. Chinese medical herbs for chemotherapy side effects in colorectal cancer patients (Review). The Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005; (1):CD004540.
Four clinical trials were included in this review to assess the effectiveness of Astragalus (Huangqi) compounds on the quality of life, side effects of chemotherapy, and on adverse effects in colorectal cancer patients. A decoction of Huangqi compounds was used in combination with chemotherapy in three studies, whereas the fourth study compared Huangqi compounds with two other Chinese herbal formulas. Patients who were given Huangqi compounds experienced a reduction in nausea and vomiting along with a decrease in the rate of leucopenia and an increase in CD3, CD4 and CD8 subsets of T-lymphocytes when compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone in the three studies or with other Chinese formulas in the fourth study.
Use of Chinese herbal medicine along with chemotherapy appears promising for patients with colorectal cancer; however, a major limitation of this review is that it includes only four studies and the studies are of poor quality. Further properly designed trials are needed to confirm these observations.