Anticarcinogenic effect of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer and identification of active compounds

J Korean Med Sci. 2001 Dec;16 Suppl(Suppl):S6-18. doi: 10.3346/jkms.2001.16.S.S6.


The failure to improve the five-year survival rate of cancer patients, from one in three in the 1960s to one in two in the 1970s, stimulated awareness of the importance of primary prevention of cancer. Korean investigators carried out extensive long-term anticarcinogenicity experiments with 2000 newborn mice to investigate whether Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer inhibited carcinogenesis induced by several chemical carcinogens in 1978. There was a 22% decrease (p<0.05) in the incidence of urethane induced lung adenoma by the combined use of red ginseng extract. In the group sacrificed at 56 weeks after the treatment with aflatoxin B1, the incidence of hepatoma significantly decreased to 75% by the addition of red ginseng extract (p<0.05). The result showed that natural products can provide hope for human cancer prevention. By the newly established '9 week medium-term anticarcinogenicity test model of lung tumors in mice' (Yun's model), we confirmed significant anticarcinogenic effects of powders and extracts of the 6- yr-old dried fresh ginseng, 5- and 6-yr old white ginsengs, and 4-, 5-, and 6-yr old red ginseng. We also demonstrated that the anticarcinogencity of ginseng was more prominent in aged or heat treated extracts of ginseng and red ginseng made by steaming. To investigate the active components for cancer prevention, several fractions of 6-yr old fresh ginseng and red ginseng, four semi-synthetic ginsenoside Rh1, Rh2, Rg3 and Rg5, major saponin components in red ginseng, were prepared. Among the ginsenosides, Rg3 and Rg5 showed statistically significant reduction of lung tumor incidence and Rh2 had a tendency of decreasing the incidence. Ginsenoside Rg3, Rg5 and Rh2 were found to be active anticarcinogenic compounds. Rg3, Rg5 and Rh2 are active components in red ginseng, and they prevent cancer either singularly or synergistically.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents*
  • Chemical Fractionation
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Korea
  • Mice
  • Molecular Structure
  • Panax* / chemistry
  • Panax* / growth & development
  • Plant Extracts / analysis
  • Time Factors


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Plant Extracts