Preventing Breast Cancer with Ginseng

Institution: University of California, Davis
Investigator(s): Michael DeGregorio, Pharm.D. -
Award Cycle: 2003 (Cycle IX) Grant #: 9WB-0150 Award: $99,708
Award Type: STEP Award
Research Priorities
Etiology and Prevention>Prevention and Risk Reduction: ending the danger of breast cancer



Initial Award Abstract (2003)
The primary aim of this project is to assess the ability of ginseng, a natural remedy which has been used to treat numerous ailments for several thousand years in the Orient, to prevent the development of breast cancer in an established mouse model. At the beginning of the study, all mice will be given a chemical known to cause breast cancer. One group of mice will then be given ginseng once a day over a period of approximately 9-12 months. Two additional groups of mice will be given drugs which have already been shown to prevent breast cancer in this model. The mice in the treated groups will be compared to a group of mice receiving no preventive treatment (control mice), and the mice receiving ginseng will be compared to the mice receiving the known preventive drugs. Tumors that develop during the study will be examined to determine the type of cancer. This study will shed more light on the value of herbal remedies that contain ginseng such as soy products.

We will investigate whether ginseng be used to help prevent breast cancer, and whether it is as effective as drugs which have already shown some breast cancer preventive activity.

To study whether ginseng has any breast cancer preventive activity, 80 female mice will be given a chemical which is known to cause breast cancer in mice and rats. The mice will then be divided into four groups of twenty. One group will not be given any further treatment (control), one group will be given ginseng once a day for 9-12 months, and the two other groups will be given drugs which are known to have some preventive activity. The development of tumors will be monitored throughout the study. When most of the control mice have developed breast cancer, the study will end. Tumors and other tissues from the mice will be studied to determine the effects of the treatments. To see if ginseng prevented any breast cancers, the number of tumors in the ginseng mice will be compared to the control mice and to the mice which received the other treatments.

In order for ginseng to have any value in breast cancer prevention, it must be compared to drugs which are already known to work. What is innovative about our approach to this problem is that we have experience using this mouse model of chemically-induced breast cancer, and we have the ability to measure the levels of drugs to be used in the study that most labs do not have. Therefore, we have the expertise in animal model studies and basic pharmacology studies, making us somewhat unique. In addition, the PI has for a number of years been associated with women’s groups in which a common question revolves around the use of ginseng in breast cancer prevention, and thus the results of this research could be widely disseminated.


Final Report (2005)
The goal of this research project was do determine whether ginseng is capable of preventing the development of chemically-induced breast cancer in a mouse model. Ginseng was compared to the breast cancer drug tamoxifen and a new investigational drug called ospemifene, both of which were previously shown to be effective in preventing breast cancer in mice. A total of 83 mice were divided into four treatment groups: control (no drug treatment) (N=23); ginseng (N=20); tamoxifen (N=20); and ospemifene (N=20). All compounds were administered orally at a dose of 50 mg/kg body weight daily (7 days/week) for 52 weeks. As breast tumors developed, their size was monitored, and once they reached maximum allowable volume, the tumor-bearing mice were removed from the study. Tumor specimens were collected and analyzed to determine the tissue of origin. After 52 weeks of treatment, the study was halted and all remaining mice were euthanized and examined for tumors, which were removed and analyzed.

As of June 30, 2005, the research project was completed. Pathology reports for all tumors that developed during the 52-week treatment period have been received. The results showed that both tamoxifen and ospemifene significantly inhibited the development of breast cancer, as expected, with breast tumor incidence rates of 0% and 5%, respectively, compared to an incidence of 56.5% in the control group. However, the breast tumor incidence in the ginseng group was 40%, which was not significantly different from the control group, and was significantly higher than in the tamoxifen and ospemifene groups. Other cancers, including ovarian tumors and lymphomas, were also observed, however there were no statistically significant differences in these other cancers between groups. The incidence of tumors of any kind was 78.3, 80.0, 80.0, and 60.0%, respectively, in the control, ginseng, ospemifene, and tamoxifen groups, suggesting that ospemifene and tamoxifen selectively inhibited the formation of breast tumors. Our results show that tamoxifen and ospemifene have approximately equal efficacy in preventing the development of chemically-induced breast cancer in mice, however ginseng does not appear to be an effective chemopreventive agent in this model. In conclusion, these preliminary results suggest that ginseng’s potential for preventing breast cancer is low compared to tamoxifen and ospemifene. Ginseng’s lack of efficacy may have been due to poor bioavailability or simply low activity in this model. Future studies of the active components of ginseng may provide more conclusive data on the value of ginseng in breast cancer prevention.

Although the results of this study showed that ginseng did not effectively prevent the development of mammary tumors in this mouse model, there are other studies suggesting that purified components of crude ginseng, known as ginsenosides, may be useful in cancer prevention. Data from studies of soy-derived phytoestrogens, or plant-derived estrogens, such as genistein are also encouraging. Thus, studies of the purified active components of ginseng should be undertaken to determine the value of these chemicals in breast cancer prevention. Likewise, additional studies of the soy-derived phytoestrogens should determine the potential of these agents in cancer treatment and prevention.


Symposium Abstract (2005)
The goal of this research project was do determine whether ginseng is capable of preventing the development of chemically-induced breast cancer in a mouse model. Ginseng was compared to the breast cancer drug tamoxifen and a new investigational drug called ospemifene, both of which were previously shown to be effective in preventing breast cancer in mice. A total of 83 mice were divided into four treatment groups: control (no drug treatment) (n= 23); ginseng (n= 20); tamoxifen (n= 20); and ospemifene (n= 20). All compounds were administered orally at a dose of 50 mg/kg body weight daily (7 days/week) for 52 weeks. As breast tumors developed, their size was monitored, and once they reached maximum allowable volume, the tumor-bearing mice were removed from the study. Tumor specimens were collected and analyzed to determine the tissue of origin. After 52 weeks of treatment, the study was halted and all remaining mice were euthanized and examined for tumors, which were removed and analyzed.

The results showed that both tamoxifen and ospemifene significantly inhibited the development of breast cancer, as expected, with breast tumor incidence rates of 0/20 (0%) and 1/20 (5%), respectively, compared to an incidence of 13/23 (56.5%) in the control group. However, the breast tumor incidence in the ginseng group was 8/20 (40%), which was not significantly different from the control group and was significantly higher than in the tamoxifen and ospemifene groups. Other cancers, including ovarian tumors and lymphomas, were also observed in all groups, however there were no statistically significant differences in these other cancers between groups. The incidence of tumors of any kind was 78.3, 80.0, 80.0, and 60.0%, respectively, in the control, ginseng, ospemifene, and tamoxifen groups, suggesting that ospemifene and tamoxifen selectively inhibited the formation of breast tumors. Our results show that tamoxifen and ospemifene have approximately equal efficacy in preventing the development of chemically-induced breast cancer in mice, however ginseng does not appear to be an effective chemopreventive agent in this model. In conclusion, ginseng’s lack of efficacy may have been due to poor bioavailability or simply low activity in this model, but these preliminary results do suggest that ginseng’s potential for preventing breast ancer is low compared to tamoxifen and ospemifene. Thus, the search continues for safe and effective agents for the prevention of breast cancer that could potentially save the lives of many women.