Natural Immune Booster

Echinacea and Cancer: Evidence of Potential Therapeutic Benefit

Echinacea may help reduce side effects of chemotherapy.

Lab, animal, and preliminary clinical studies suggest echinacea may help fight cancer.(73)

Is Echinacea Safe for Cancer Patients?

Echinacea is actually one of the most commonly used herbal supplements by cancer patients. However, some experts have expressed concerns about cancer patients using echinacea because it may potentially interfere with treatment.(1668)

Most of these concerns are theoretical or non-conclusive in nature. They mainly center on the idea that echinacea is metabolized by the same liver enzymes in the body as certain chemotherapy drugs, which could interfere in how much of and how long the chemo stays in the body.(1623)

Small clinical studies with Echinacea purpurea have shown no dangerous interference with the common chemotherapy drug docetaxel. Other taxane and platinum-based chemotherapy drugs are metabolized in the body by the same liver enzyme.(77)

Lab and Animal Study Results

How does echinacea work against cancer? Preclinical studies show that the 3 main species of echinacea have anticancer effects. Some of these benefits are related to echinacea's immune boosting activity.(1378)

Table 1: Effects On Different Cancer Types by Echinacea Species
Cancer Type Echinacea Species & Study Type Study Results

Breast cancer



Echinacea pallida root extract(78)

Lab study

  • Arrested cancer cell growth.(78)

Colon cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Echinacea pallida, E. angustifolia, & E. purpurea root extracts(68)

Lab study

  • Toxic to cancer cells.(68)

E. pallida was found to be the most effective, but all 3 species were toxic to cancer cells in a dose and time-dependent manner.(68)


Echinacea pallida, E. purpurea, & E. angustifolia root extracts(68)

Lab study

  • Proteins that contribute to cancer cell resistance to chemotherapy & radiation.(68)

E. pallida was found to be the most effective. Researchers believe this may be related to acetylene compounds mostly absent in the other 2 species.(68)


Whole herb Echinacea purpurea(13)

Animal study

  • Life span dramatically compared to untreated mice, especially when combined with melatonin or vaccination with dead leukemia cells.(13)
  • Immune system's natural killer (NK) cells.(13)
  • Release of substances that suppress NK cells.(13)

NK cells attack and destroy tumor cells.(13)


Walker carcinosarcoma

Compound from the root oil of Echinacea angustifolia & E. pallida(68)

Animal study

  • Cancer cell growth.(68)

Colon cancer

Gastric cancer

Whole herb Echinacea purpurea extract(79)

Lab study on cancerous & noncancerous tissue taken from 33 patients with gastric cancer and 25 patients with colon cancer

  • ADA enzyme involved in cancer cell metabolism.(79)

Echinacea's effects were significant only on gastric cancer tissue, not colon cancer. Echinacea had no effect on this enzyme in healthy tissue.(79)

Breast cancer

Colorectal cancer

Liver cancer


Echinacoside compounds (found in echinacea and other herbs)(80)

Lab study

  • Cancer cell death.(80)
  • Levels of MTH1 enzymes that protect cancer cells from damage and death.(80)
  • Cancer cell growth and proliferation.(80)

Echinacoside significantly affected cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner but did not harm normal cells.(80)

Liver cancer

Echinacea purpurea extract(32)

Animal study

  • Liver damage.(32)

30 days of daily treatment partially protected rats from liver damage caused by daily exposure to nitrosamine, a metabolite of nitrites (a common food preservative).(32)

Nitrosamine is known to cause changes in the liver that can lead to liver cancer.(3281)

Possible Chemo Interference

However, it should be noted that some lab studies suggest echinacea could interfere with chemotherapy:

  • A combination of Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea root extracts promoted cancer cell growth in 2 cancer cell lines — cervical cancer and cholangiocarcinoma.(82)
  • Echinacoside, a compound in echinacea and other herbs, protected brain cancer cells from inflammatory TNF-α proteins that kill them.(83)

Clinical Studies

Preliminary research in cancer patients suggest echinacea may help by reducing the side effects of conventional cancer treatments.

Table 5: Clinical Trials Using Echinacea for Cancer Treatment
Cancer Type Echinacea Species & Study Details Study Results

Pediatric cancer

20 children undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer(84)

  • Oral doses of a product (SAMITAL®) containing Echinacea angustifolia root extract and 2 other herb extracts.(84)
  • Doses were given to treat existing gastrointestinal mucositis & then to prevent recurrence during chemotherapy cycles.(84)
  • Severity of gastrointestinal mucositis caused by chemotherapy.(84)
  • Pain.(84)
  • Bleeding.(84)
  • Need for IV nutrition.(84)

Results were significantly positive with no complications or negative impact on treatment.(84)

Advanced gastric cancer

Pilot study; 15 patients(62)

  • 10 days of injections of a polysaccharide compound from Echinacea purpurea.(62)
  • Treatment began 3 days before palliative chemotherapy.(62)

Results suggest echinacea may help reduce leukopenia caused by chemotherapy.(62)

Advanced gastric cancer

Pilot study; 15 patients(62)

  • 10 days of injections of a polysaccharide compound from Echinacea purpurea.(62)
  • Treatment began 3 days before palliative chemotherapy.(62)

Results suggest echinacea may help reduce leukopenia caused by chemotherapy.(62)

Advanced liver cancer

Clinical study; 5 patients(85)

  • 7 days of daily intravenous Echinacea purpurea followed by twice weekly.(85)
  • Treatment was combined with low dose chemotherapy and another drug that boosts the immune system.(8586)

Results suggest echinacea may help stimulate beneficial immune system cells in cancer patients taking chemotherapy.(85)

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