For the past 50 years, the main weapons in the war against cancer have been early detection and surgical removal, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and attempts to develop gene therapy.
However, the results so far are less than ideal. One strategy now is to switch from therapeutic approaches to prevention of cancer by improving lifestyle and by identifying effective natural products as chemopreventive agents. One promising candidate with cancer-preventive effects that are not specific to any organ is Panax ginseng C A Meyer, a herb with a long medicinal history. Its protective influence against cancer has been shown by extensive preclinical and epidemiological studies, but these effects need to be carefully investigated by scientific clinical trials focusing on the major cancer killers stomach, lung, liver, and colorectal cancer.
Korean investigators carried out extensive long-term anticarcinogenicity experiments with 2000 newborn mice to investigate whether Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer inhibited carcinogenesis induced by several chemical carcinogens in 1978. There was a 22% decrease (p <0.05) in the inci- dence of urethane induced lung adenoma by the combined use of red ginseng extract. In the group sacrificed at 56 weeks after the treatment with aflatoxin B1, the incidence of hepatoma significantly decreased to 75% by the addition of red ginseng extract (p<0.05). The result showed that natural products can provide hope for human cancer prevention. By the newly established‘9 week medium- term anticarcinogenicity test model of lung tumors in mice’(Yun’s model), we confirmed significant anticarcinogenic effects of powders and extracts of the 6- yr-old dried fresh ginseng, 5- and 6-yr old white ginsengs, and 4-, 5-, and 6-yr old red ginseng. We also demonstrated that the anticarcinogencity of ginseng was more prominent in aged or heat treated extracts of ginseng and red ginseng made by steaming. To investigate the active components for cancer prevention, several fractions of 6-yr old fresh ginseng and red ginseng, four semi-synthetic ginsenoside Rh1, Rh2, Rg3 and Rg5, major saponin components in red ginseng, were prepared.
Among the ginsenosides, Rg3 and Rg5 showed statistically significant reduction of lung tumor incidence and Rh2 had a tendency of decreasing the incidence. Ginsenoside Rg3, Rg5 and Rh2 were found to be active anticar- cinogenic compounds. Rg3, Rg5 and Rh2 are active components in red ginseng, and they prevent cancer either singularly or synergistically.