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Japanese Yew Has Anticancer Abilities Against Different Cancers


In the search among natural substances for those that have anticancer abilities, the Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) has shown potential. Now in a new study, extract of Japanese yew needles and twigs used both alone and with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) has displayed strong potential as an anticancer treatment against various cancer cell lines.

Japanese yew shows strong anticancer potential

The Japanese yew is just one of many different kinds of yew (e.g., English, European, Irish, Polish, Pacific), and all are considered to be poisonous, although they also have medicinal potential. The bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus previfolia), for example, is the source of the anticancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol®), which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has demonstrated success in treating ovarian and breast cancers.

The Japanese yew is scarce in nature, but artificial cuttage allows researchers to produce a constant supply. In this new study, scientists used a Japanese yew extract made from twigs and needles produced by artificial cuttage and tested how well it inhibited various human cancer cell lines: breast, lung, prostate, gastric, cervical, melanoma, liver, oral, and leukemic.

When the Japanese yew extract was used against the various human cancer cell lines, it inhibited the growth of all cell lines by 70 to 90 percent. But the extract inhibited normal mouse T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes by only 5 to 7 percent, which indicated that the extract had broad anticancer activity but was not toxic to normal cells.

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The researchers also tested the impact of Japanese yew extract combined with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), which is one of the most commonly used drugs for the treatment of breast, digestive tract, and other cancers. 5-FU is often used along with other anticancer agents, such as paclitaxel, cisplatin, and docetaxel.

The combination of extract and 5-FU against lung, breast, and prostate cancer cell lines caused a dramatic decline in survival of all three cell lines, but it did not have a significant impact on normal cells. In addition, the combination of 5-FU and Japanese yew extract was less toxic to normal cells than use of 5-FU alone.

Results of this study using Japanese yew extract as an anticancer agent suggest it has potent activity against a variety of cancer cell lines, and that the combination of the extract and 5-FU had a synergistic effect against cancer cells. An added advantage of Japanese yew is that the needles and twigs can be obtained from artificial cuttage, which makes the extract readily available, inexpensive, and easy to prepare, in contrast with paclitaxel, which is costly.

Shang W et al. BMC Alternative & Complementary Medicine 2011; 11:123. DOI:10.1186/1472-6882-11-123

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons