Sage Advice Blog

Astragalus and Lung Cancer

February 12, 2018
Astragalus flower
Astragalus flower

Alex Speers ND, MS


Astragalus, known as Huáng Qí in Chinese, is a flowering plant that is native to parts of China, Mongolia, and Korea. Astragalus has a long history of use in Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments and has increasingly been used in the West for its immune-stimulating effects. In the world of oncology, Astragalus is unique in that it is perhaps one of our most well-studied herbs, specifically for lung cancer.


Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death among both men and women. In fact, more people die from lung cancer each year than from colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. According to, the chance of being alive 5 years after a diagnosis of lung cancer is less than 20%. These poor survival statistics can be partially attributed to the fact that at the time of diagnosis, 57% of lung cancers have already spread to distant parts of the body, making them much more difficult to treat.


The most common type of lung cancer is called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which represents 80% of all lung cancers. In addition to surgery (if possible) and radiation, treatment for NSCLC often includes a platinum chemotherapy drug, a type of chemo which acts by forming cross-links in the DNA strands of cancer cells, essentially shoving a monkey wrench into the process of cancer cell division. While platinum chemotherapy drugs have been shown to modestly improve survival in NSCLC, there are numerous potential side effects to consider and the long-term prognosis for patients with NSCLC remains poor. Several randomized clinical trials have been conducted to investigate whether the addition of Astragalus to platinum-based chemotherapy could improve outcomes in NSCLC compared to chemotherapy alone.  


In 2016, a meta-analysis was published combining the data from 17 of these trials, representing over 1,500 patients. In this meta-analysis, adding Astragalus to a platinum-based chemotherapy regimen significantly improved overall survival, by 26% at year 1, 67% at year 2, and 70% at year 3. In addition, patients who took Astragalus alongside chemotherapy had significantly higher tumor response rates, meaning that their tumors were more likely to decrease in size and number. Furthermore, patients’ performance status (a way to measure overall well-being) significantly improved, and side effects – including anemia, fatigue, poor appetitie, nausea, and vomiting – were all significantly reduced in patients taking Astragalus.


Perhaps the most interesting finding, however, was that when patients received an Astragalus-based formula based on traditional Chinese medicine pattern differentiation, the beneficial effects were greater than when patients received either a standalone Astragalus supplement or an Astragalus injection. This finding suggests that there is an additional benefit from receiving an Astragalus-based herbal preparation with multiple herbs as opposed to taking Astragalus alone. Regardless, taking Astragalus alongside platinum-based chemotherapy for patients with NSCLC appears to be a safe and significantly beneficial addition based on the current evidence.


Wang SF, Wang Q, Jiao LJ, Huang YL, Garfield D, Zhang J, Xu L. Astragalus-containing traditional chinese medicine, with and without prescription based on syndrome differentiation, combined with chemotherapy for advanced non-small-cell lung cnacer: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Curr Oncol. 2016;23(3):e188-195


DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements.

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