Herbal cures touted for treating cancer

While herbal remedies have increasingly gained better place in the society here in Indonesia, the use of them in therapy is still welcomed with indifference by medical practitioners, an observer says.

The reason is simple: Very few of these remedies are clinically tested, Aldrin Neilwan, secretary-general of the Herbal Doctors Association of Indonesian (PDHMI), said.

“So far we’ve never recommended the use of herbal medicine for therapy. We can’t, however, forbid patients from taking them, as long as they consult with us,” he said.

Despite the lack of clinical tests to prove the effectiveness and safety of herbal therapy, he said, there was an increase in its use over the last few years, especially among cancer patients, mainly driven by the prohibitively high cost of imported drugs.

Aldrin, a doctor at state-run Dharmais Cancer Hospital in Central Jakarta, said 80 percent of the hospital’s patients used herbal remedies in combination with the medical treatment they received.
“It is our duty as doctors to educate them in using herbal remedies,” he said.

A common misconception among cancer patients, Aldrin said, was that they can use herbal remedies in place of chemotherapy. “Herbal remedies can only be used to supplement the main treatment.”

He acknowledged, however, that herbal remedies could be effective in preventing disease and promoting health, and could be useful in the palliative and rehabilitative stages of cancer treatment.

Some herbal remedies have proven to be effective on cancer patients, he said, by working to enhance their immune systems so it can fight cancer cells.

Others, Aldrin added, contained high amounts of antioxidants that combat free radicals, often a trigger in the formation of cancer cells.

He was speaking at a seminar entitled “The Use of Herbal Remedies in Supporting Cancer Treatment”, which was attended by cancer patients and their families.

He said the event was aimed at giving cancer patients a better understanding of the effectiveness and safety of herbal remedies, which he said were often mistakenly viewed as effective medication with no side effects.

Dharmais spokesman Bambang Purwanto said the hospital was trying to develop herbal remedies for cancer treatment in an effort to provide more affordable and less toxic alternative treatments for cancer patients.

Aldrin named three other hospitals in Indonesia also developing herbal remedies: Persahabatan Hospital in East Jakarta, Dr. Soetomo Hospital in Surabaya, and Kandou Malalayang Hospital in Manado.

Many Indonesians practice the tradition of drinking herbal concoctions called jamu. Several jamu producers have evolved into large companies but traditional producers remain popular and sell their elixirs without certification.