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A Different Way to Heal?
Body on a Bench
 
Herbal Hope
 
Photo Bottles of PC-SPES
  In keeping with government regulations, the PC-SPES label said only that the product was for a "healthy prostate."

Soon after George Dutra was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it became clear he was in the fight of his life. With his options running out, his family doctor suggested an alternative herbal treatment for prostate cancer that had been gaining attention - PC-SPES. While he was taking PC-SPES, George's cancer was held back, and although physicians say that diseases can fluctuate on their own, George firmly believes it was the herbal remedy that did the trick.

Starting in the mid 1990's, Dr. Eric Small at the University of California, San Francisco attempted to conduct a clinical trial of PC-SPES (PC stands for prostate cancer; SPES is Latin for "hope"). Initially, patients in the trial showed dramatic improvement, but suspicion grew that the remedy had been laced with DES, a synthetic hormone that is a standard prostate cancer therapy. Lab analyses revealed traces of DES, although the UCSF team was unable to say what medical effect, if any, it might have. Nevertheless the trial was halted, and PC-SPES is now off the market.

 
Photo of Eric Small  
In his initial results, Dr. Eric Small (right) found that PC-SPES treated prostate cancer as well as the traditional hormone therapy.
 

The PC-SPES story demonstrates the difficulty in getting scientifically rigorous results with herbal remedies. An herbal mixture may contain hundreds of different chemicals, and it's hard to know which ingredients might be active - or even what they are. Although PC-SPES might still be useful, we may never know for sure - and that's true of most herbal remedies.


For more on this topic, see the web feature:
How We Know
Alternative Attraction
The Cold Truth

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