PC-SPES, PC-HOPE, PC-CARE and PC-PLUS
PC-SPES is no longer available but PC-HOPE, PC-CARE and PC-PLUS are marketed as herbal products for prostate cancer.
PC-SPES is a mixture of eight different herbs, including chrysanthemum, licorice and saw palmetto, plus the minerals selenium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper. PC stands for prostate cancer and spes is the Latin word for hope. PC-SPES was available over the counter in the USA from 1996. But it was withdrawn in 2002 by the American food and drug regulation agency (the FDA) because samples were found to contain warfarin. Warfarin is a drug that helps to stop the blood clotting. It is a useful and widely used drug. But it can be extremely dangerous if not very carefully prescribed.
PC-SPES was also found to contain the synthetic drugs diethylstilbestrol (also called diethylstilboestrol) and indometacin (also called indomethacin). Diethylstilbestrol is a hormone therapy that used to be used widely to treat prostate cancer, but has since been overtaken by other hormone drugs with fewer side effects. Indomethacin is an anti inflammatory drug, in the same drug family as ibuprofen (Nurofen).
PC-HOPE is a newer herbal product that is very similar to PC-SPES and produced in conditions that mean it cannot be contaminated with other medicines. PC-HOPE contains magnesium, sterolins, quercetin, Reishi, Baikal scullcap, Rabdosia, Dyer's woad, saw palmetto, ginseng and licorice.
PC-CARE contains Reishi, Baikal skullcap, Rabdosia rubescens, Isatis indigotica, chrysanthemum, saw palmetto, rye and licorice.
PC-PLUS is also called Prostasol and it contains calcium, regrestrol, saw palmetto, quercetin, magnesium, ginseng, and resveratrol.
There is no medically approved dose for these herbal products. There are guidelines published by suppliers of the herbs. You take them as tablets or capsules that you swallow. They come in varying dosages.
Several carefully designed trials looked at PC-SPES as a treatment for prostate cancer. The herbs seem to act as a type of hormone therapy. Early trial results showed that PC-SPES could
- Lower prostate specific antigen (PSA) and testosterone levels
- Reduce bone pain in one third of men with this symptom
- Shrink prostate tumours significantly in some men
In many men, PSA and testosterone levels were reduced to virtually nothing. The herbs seemed to work better in men who had not had hormone therapy before. But they also worked to some extent in men whose prostate cancer had become resistant to hormone drugs. The herbs did lower PSA in these men, but the effect didn't seem to last as long.
In several trials the PC-SPES seemed to reduce blood levels of a protein produced by prostate cancer cells (PSA) and shrank prostate tumours. However, the therapy may have worked because it also contained some hormone type drugs. Some researchers feel that it may work because it contains oestrogen like plant substances that may block the growth of prostate cancer cells. But because of the problems with making PC-SPES it is no longer available.
PC-HOPE, PC-CARE and PC-PLUS are similar products and are available from nutritionists and from the manufacturers. Laboratory studies of PC-HOPE and PC-SPES have seemed to show that these are active against prostate cancer cells. Two studies have looked at using them in men with prostate cancer and the trials suggest that they may lower PSA levels and improve quality of life. But we need bigger studies before we know whether these products are helpful as a treatment for people with prostate cancer.
PC-SPES caused some side effects. As it acts like an oestrogen, the side effects were the same as for other oestrogen based hormone therapies and included
- Breast swelling
- Nipple tenderness or pain
- Loss of sex drive
- Erection difficulties (impotence)
Less common side effects included
- An increased risk of blood clots in the legs
- Feeling sick
There have been reports of chest pain in men with a history of heart disease. As the newer PC herbal products contain similar ingredients, the side effects are likely to be similar. Allergic reactions are possible with any herbal product.
We strongly recommend that you talk to your prostate cancer specialist before starting to take any of these herbal products. This is because
- There may be a reason why it is not recommended for you (for example, you may have an increased risk of blood clots)
- They may interfere with other hormone drugs you are having
- They may be best kept in reserve in case other hormone therapies stop working for you
- Your specialist needs to know everything you are taking in order to have a full picture of your treatment
Using these herbal products instead of conventional treatments for prostate cancer could be very harmful to your health.
There is information about hormones and prostate cancer in the prostate cancer section.
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