Phytomedicine in the Treatment of Cancer: A Health Technology Assessment

J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Dec;9(12):XC04-XC09. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2015/15701.6913. Epub 2015 Dec 1.


Introduction: Cancer is reported to cause about 0.4 million deaths annually. The cost of diagnosis and treatment of cancer in India is enormous.

Aim: This Health Technology Assessment (HTA) aims to understand the role, effect on mortality and adverse event occurrence, and cost effectiveness of phytomedicine in cancer treatment.

Materials and methods: Health technology assessment by systematic review of published literature. An electronic literature search was performed in Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Medline, PubMed, Science Direct, SCOPUS, EMBASE, LANCET, and Google Scholar databases for randomized controlled trial, observational analytical studies, case control and cohort studies pertaining to phytomedicine and herbal medicine in cancer treatment published from 1987 till 2(nd) Novemeber 2014. Overall outcome measures collected included changes in mortality and adverse event profile. Cochrane Review Manager's Risk of Bias Table was used to assess the risk of bias.

Results: Out of 76 studies which were screened, 14 studies involving a total of 1965 participants (817 received various forms of phytomedicine or herbal medicine in addition to conventional therapy, and 1148 received conventional therapy only) suffering from various cancers (including cancers of the breast, prostate, nasopharynx, pancreas, stomach, ovary, non-small cell lung cancer and osteosarcoma), were included in this review. In comparison with conventional therapy, phytomedicine resulted in a significant reduction in mortality: Risk Ratio (RR) 0.67 (95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.51 to 0.90). The combination of phytomedicine with conventional therapy resulted in a significant reduction in adverse drug reactions: RR 0.62 (95% CI 0.54 to 0.71). Addition of phytomedicine to chemotherapy resulted in an increase in the annual cost of treatment by INR 1.241 Billion (US$ 19.64 Million) and prevented 25,217 deaths: the cost-effectiveness of phytomedicine is INR 49,237/death averted (US$ 779/death averted).

Conclusion: When taken with conventional cancer treatment, phytomedicine shows clinical and cost effectiveness. Domestic manufacturing and practice of phytomedicine should be encouraged.

Keywords: Health economics; Herbal medicine.