Plain language summary
Chinese herbal medicines are widely used to counteract the side-effects of chemotherapy in patients being treated for cancer. As yet, there is no clear evidence that herbal medicines are effective in this role. We have performed a systematic review of the potential benefits of Chinese herbal medicines in patients being treated with chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. We identified four relevant studies, which included a total of 342 patients, with adequately reported data. We conclude that, from the limited information available, there is some evidence of benefit from decoctions of Huangqi compounds. Compared with patients treated by chemotherapy alone, patients treated with chemotherapy and Huangqi decoctions were less likely to experience nausea and vomiting or low white cell counts. There was some evidence to suggest that the decoctions also stimulated cells of the immune system, but did not affect the levels of antibodies in the blood. We could find no evidence of harm arising from the use of Huangqi decoctions. Our results suggest that further, larger-scale, trials of the use of Huangqi decoctions in the prevention of chemotherapy-related side-effects are needed.
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