Complementary Chinese Herbal Medicine Therapy Improves Survival of Patients With Pancreatic Cancer in Taiwan: A Nationwide Population-Based Cohort Study

Integr Cancer Ther. 2018 Jun;17(2):411-422. doi: 10.1177/1534735417722224. Epub 2017 Aug 3.


Background: Pancreatic cancer is a difficult-to-treat cancer with a late presentation and poor prognosis. Some patients seek traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) consultation. We aimed to investigate the benefits of complementary Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) among patients with pancreatic cancer in Taiwan.

Methods: We included all patients with pancreatic cancer who were registered in the Taiwanese Registry for Catastrophic Illness Patients Database between 1997 and 2010. We used 1:1 frequency matching by age, sex, the initial diagnostic year of pancreatic cancer, and index year to enroll 386 CHM users and 386 non-CHM users. A Cox regression model was used to compare the hazard ratios (HRs) of the risk of mortality. The Kaplan-Meier curve was used to compare the difference in survival time.

Results: According to the Cox hazard ratio model mutually adjusted for CHM use, age, sex, urbanization level, comorbidity, and treatments, we found that CHM users had a lower hazard ratio of mortality risk (adjusted HR = 0.67, 95% CI = 0.56-0.79). Those who received CHM therapy for more than 90 days had significantly lower hazard ratios of mortality risk than non-CHM users (90- to 180-day group: adjusted HR = 0.56, 95% CI = 0.42-0.75; >180-day group: HR = 0.33, 95% CI = 0.24-0.45). The survival probability was higher for patients in the CHM group. Bai-hua-she-she-cao (Herba Oldenlandiae; Hedyotis diffusa Spreng) and Xiang-sha-liu-jun-zi-tang (Costus and Chinese Amomum Combination) were the most commonly used single herb and Chinese herbal formula, respectively.

Conclusions: Complementary Chinese herbal therapy might be associated with reduced mortality among patients with pancreatic cancer. Further prospective clinical trial is warranted.

Keywords: Chinese herbal medicine; National Health Insurance Research Database; complementary and alternative medicine; pancreatic cancer; traditional Chinese medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Complementary Therapies / methods
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Registries
  • Risk
  • Taiwan
  • Young Adult


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • liu-jun-zi-tang