PC-SPES is a potent eight-herb formulation sold directly to consumers; it has promising efficacy in the treatment of prostate cancer (CaP). The product induces a castrate status in most, if not all, men, resulting in a 50% or greater prostate-specific antigen reduction in the great majority of men with androgen-dependent CaP and in more than one half of the men with androgen-independent CaP. The duration of response is not yet clear. The efficacy of PC-SPES appears to exceed that of androgen ablation alone, but is not necessarily separate from an estrogenic effect. Common side effects include gynecomastia, nipple tenderness, loss of libido, and impotency; uncommon side effects include a 4% incidence of thromboembolic phenomena, but also two reports of bleeding diatheses. The mechanisms of action may involve downregulation of the androgen receptor, induction of apoptosis by way of inhibition of the bcl-2 gene, and increased expression of p53. Two marker compounds in PC-SPES are baicalin and oridonin, both of which exhibit antiproliferative effects in CaP cell lines. Thousands of men are currently obtaining this nonprescription medicine, and physicians should ask patients specifically about its use. PC-SPES is of great interest in men with androgen-independent CaP, an area in which future research should be primarily directed.
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