Chinese medicines may safely reduce the immuno-suppressive side effects of powerful anti-cancer drugs.

Some 60% of women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer experience a range of side effects including nausea, vomiting and fatigue. They may also suffer inflammation of the gut lining, reduced numbers of blood cells, and a weakened immune system.

A number of Chinese medicinal herbal mixtures and compounds are prescribed to counteract the unwanted effects of chemotherapy. Six of them were tested in the studies examined, all randomised controlled trials comparing treatment with and without Chinese herbal medicine (CHM).

The results suggest that using Chinese herbs in conjunction with chemotherapy or CHM alone may be beneficial in terms of improvements in bone marrow suppression and immune system, and may improve overall state of quality of life.” However they said further trials were needed before the effects of traditional Chinese medicines on women with breast cancer could be evaluated with any confidence.