Johns Hopkins to Study Alternative Therapies for Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer

December 1, 2000

Can tart cherries alleviate cancer pain? Does prayer help heal African-American women with breast cancer? To answer such questions, Johns Hopkins Medicine has been awarded a 5-year, $7.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health

Can tart cherries alleviate cancer pain? Does prayer help healAfrican-American women with breast cancer? To answer such questions, JohnsHopkins Medicine has been awarded a 5-year, $7.8 million grant from the NationalInstitutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and AlternativeMedicine to establish a research center to study complementary and alternativemedicine in the treatment of cancer.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Complementary and AlternativeMedicine (CAM) in Cancer will initially pursue four studies of alternativetherapies for breast and prostate cancers, will train and educate physicians andmedical students in alternative medicine and research techniques, and willreview and fund pilot studies of other alternative treatments.

East Meets West

"Our aim is to reconcile scientific method with alternativemedicine treatments—two areas currently in opposition in the West," saidAdrian S. Dobs, md, mhs, principal investigator of the new center and associateprofessor of endocrinology. The Center will promote collaboration betweenalternative medicine and mainstream scientific communities to determine the mostpromising alternative treatments and the most scientific way of studying them.

Among the research projects is an evaluation of PC-SPES (acombination of eight Chinese herbs) for its ability to reduce stress (leading tooxidative DNA damage in cancer cells) and for its ability to improve the immunesystem in prostate cancer patients. Scientists will also study soy and sourcherries for their ability to reduce cancer pain, and investigate the impact ofprayer on the health of African-American women with breast cancer. In addition,the Center plans collaborations with Johns Hopkins Singapore.

Breast and prostate cancers will be the focus of intitialstudies at the Center, but Dr. Dobs believes that information gleaned fromstudying these cancers may be generalized to other forms of cancer.

A Lucrative Alternative

"Often patients ask their physicians about an alternativemedicine treatment that they heard of, but receive little direction one way orthe other because there is little scientific evidence," said Dr. Dobs, whoalso directs Hopkins’ Clinical Trials Unit and serves as vice chair for thedepartment of medicine. "Then the onus is on the patient to decide, andthis can be dangerous for patients." Despite the lack of scientific proofand safety data on alternative medicine treatments, Americans spent more than$27 billion on alternative therapies in 1997, exceeding out-of-pocket spendingfor all hospitalizations in the United States, according to a survey publishedin the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We have assembled a top-notch team of cutting-edge Hopkinsscientists and leaders in alternative medicine, and we will proceed with an openmind and a healthy amount of skepticism," said Dr. Dobs.

The initial trials should begin in about 6 months. Those wishingto find out more about the studies or volunteer should call 410-847-3550.