Cancer stem cells and the impact of Chinese herbs, isolates and other complementary medical botanicals: a review

Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2012 May;10(5):493-503. doi: 10.3736/jcim20120503.


To elucidate the connection between the origin of certain cancers and stem cells, cancer stem cells, the stem cell niche and the tumor microenvironment, and to examine the ability of traditional Chinese herbal medicines and isolates in treating these types of cancers, the existing literature was examined and eight studies regarding Chinese herbal medicines and the prevention of cancer recurrence were critically analyzed and evaluated. Tumor stem cells may be the final target of traditional Chinese medicine. Soy flavones, ginsenoside Rg3, parthenolide, berbamine and curcumin are several examples of Chinese herbal medicines, which have been shown to be effective in the treatment of cancer, and seem to act by targeting cancer stem cells and associated pathways resulting in tumorigenesis. The treatment approaches combined with an overall treatment protocol for the tumor microenvironment and chronic systemic inflammation are likely to provide a more successful outcome than a single tactical approach. As shown in numerous studies in the literature, using complementary disciplines with orthodox treatments may enhance treatment outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal*
  • Humans
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells*
  • Phytotherapy*


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal