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J Clin Oncol. 2004 Sep 15;22(18):3705-12. Epub 2004 Aug 2.

Prospective, multicenter, randomized phase II trial of the herbal supplement, PC-SPES, and diethylstilbestrol in patients with androgen-independent prostate cancer.

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Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA.



To evaluate the herbal combination, PC-SPES, and diethylstilbestrol (DES) in patients with androgen independent prostate cancer (AIPC).


A randomized phase II study was conducted with cross-over design. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either three PC-SPES capsules orally three times a day or DES 3 mg orally once a day. Prophylactic warfarin was administered. At clinical or prostate-specific antigen progression, patients received the other therapy. The study closed prematurely after PC-SPES was withdrawn from the market. Chemical analyses were performed on multiple lots of PC-SPES.


Ninety patients were enrolled, of whom 85 were assessable for response. Prostate-specific antigen declines > or = 50% were noted in 40% (95% CI, 25% to 56%) with PC-SPES, and 24% (95% CI, 12% to 39%) with DES. Median response duration was not reached with PC-SPES, and was 3.8 months with DES. Median time to progression for randomly assigned patients was 5.5 months for PC-SPES and 2.9 months for DES. Common toxicities included mild fatigue, gynecomastia, and mastodynia. Five thromboembolic events occurred (one PC-SPES, four DES). Responses in the cross-over phase were inconclusive. Four lots of PC-SPES had measurable quantities of DES, ranging from 0.01% to 3.1% of the dose used in the DES arm. Ethinyl estradiol was also detected in PC-SPES lots.


PC-SPES and DES demonstrate activity in AIPC and are well tolerated. However, the synthetic estrogens, DES and ethinyl estradiol, were detected in various lots of PC-SPES, including those used in this trial. Clinical trials that utilize herbal therapies must account for issues of purity and consistency.

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