Herbal composition PC-SPES for management of prostate cancer: identification of active principles

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Sep 4;94(17):1275-81. doi: 10.1093/jnci/94.17.1275.


Background: The herbal mixture PC-SPES, used to manage advanced prostate cancer, has proven thrombogenic and highly estrogenic in clinical trials. However, attempts to identify the active compounds in PC-SPES have yielded incongruous results. Moreover, warfarin was identified in the serum of a patient taking PC-SPES who experienced a bleeding disorder. To determine the active components in PC-SPES potentially responsible for these effects, we analyzed PC-SPES lots manufactured from l996 through mid-2001.

Methods: Antineoplastic activity of PC-SPES and its individual component extracts was determined by colony-forming assays with several prostate cancer cell lines, and estrogenicity was determined by analyzing expression of an estrogen-responsive reporter gene in breast cancer cells. High-pressure liquid chromatography was used to isolate, identify, and quantify components of PC-SPES. Components were also identified by proton nuclear magnetic resonance, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, and mass spectra analysis.

Results: PC-SPES lots manufactured from 1996 through mid-1999 contained the synthetic compounds indomethacin (range = 1.07-13.19 mg/g) and diethylstilbestrol (range = 107.28-159.27 micro g/g) and were two to six times more antineoplastic and up to 50 times more estrogenic than lots manufactured after the spring of 1999. In lots manufactured after mid-1999, gradual declines in the concentrations of indomethacin (from 1.56 to 0.70 mg/g), diethylstilbestrol (from 46.36 to 0.00 micro g/g), and total phytosterols (from 0.586 to 0.085 mg/g) were observed. Warfarin was identified for the first time in lots manufactured after July 1998 (range = 341-560 micro g/g). In the August 2001 lot, increases were found in concentrations of the natural products licochalcone A (from 27.6 to 289.2 micro g/g) and baicalin (from 12.5 to 38.8 mg/g).

Conclusions: The phytochemical composition of PC-SPES varied by lot, and chemical analyses detected various amounts of the synthetic drugs diethylstilbestrol, indomethacin, and warfarin and several natural products. To qualify for clinical pharmacologic exploration, nutritional supplements including herbal mixtures should meet standards of quality control under the Good Manufacturing Practice system, and the manufacturers of such supplements should provide reliable analytical quality assurance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / metabolism
  • Anticoagulants / analysis
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / analysis
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Colony-Forming Units Assay
  • Diethylstilbestrol / analysis*
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / chemistry*
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Indomethacin / analysis*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / drug therapy
  • Phytosterols / analysis*
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Warfarin / analysis*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Anticoagulants
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Phytosterols
  • Plant Extracts
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • herbal preparation PC-SPES
  • Warfarin
  • Diethylstilbestrol
  • Indomethacin