Challenges of conducting clinical trials of natural products to combat cancer

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18 Scopus citations


Numerous drugs that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for use in cancer therapy are derived from plants, including taxanes such as paclitaxel and vinca alkaloids such as vinblastine. Dietary supplements are another category of natural products that are widely used by patients with cancer, but without the FDA-reviewed evidence of safety and efficacy-be it related to survival, palliation, symptom mitigation, and/or immune system enhancement-that is required for therapy approval. Nearly half of patients in the United States with cancer report that they started taking new dietary supplements after being given a diagnosis of cancer. Oncologists are challenged in providing advice to patients about which supplements are safe and effective to use to treat cancer or the side effects of cancer therapy, and which supplements are antagonistic to standard treatment with chemotherapy, radiation, and/or immunotherapy. Despite the large number of trials that have been launched, the FDA has not approved any dietary supplement or food to prevent cancer, halt its growth, or prevent its recurrence. In this article, we review the primary challenges faced by researchers attempting to conduct rigorous trials of natural products, including shortages of funding due to lack of patentability, manufacturing difficulties, contamination, and lack of product consistency. We also highlight the methods used by dietary supplement marketers to persuade patients that a supplement is effective (or at least safe) even without FDA approval, as well as the efforts of the US government to protect the health and safety of its citizens by ensuring that the information used to market natural products is accurate. We close with a summary of the most widely used databases of information about the safety, efficacy, and interactions of dietary supplements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-455
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Advances in Hematology and Oncology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2016


  • Cancer
  • Clinical trials
  • Dietary supplements
  • Natural products
  • Patents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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