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Chinese Herb Associated with Kidney Cancer

Chinese Herb Associated with Kidney Cancer

Friday November 2, 2001 By Keith Mulvihill

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A Chinese herbal remedy appears to be the cause of cancer of the urinary system in a 49-year-old woman in the UK. The case is described in the November 3rd issue of The Lancet.

Previously it was reported that the same woman suffered kidney failure after taking a Chinese herbal medication for 2 years that contained the herb Aristolochia fangchi, also known as Mu Ton and Fanjii. The herb, which is sometimes used as a weight loss remedy, was given to the woman to treat eczema.

As a result of the kidney failure, one of her kidneys was removed and she successfully underwent kidney transplant surgery in the late 1990s. Three years later, a routine ultrasound exam revealed abnormalities in the other kidney and the woman underwent biopsies of both kidneys.

Cancer was found in the patient's ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder) and her kidneys, the report indicates. The affected tissue showed evidence of exposure to aristolochic acid, the harmful ingredient in the herb.

"The main findings of the study are that in addition to causing kidney failure--that we and others have previously reported--aristolochic acid, which can be a constituent of Chinese herbal medical treatments, can also cause cancer of the urinary system," lead author Dr. Graham M. Lord of Hammersmith Hospital NHS Trust in London, told Reuters Health.

People should take care to "ensure that you know what is contained in the herbal preparation you are taking," he added.

Outbreaks of kidney failure linked to the herb have been reported in Belgium and cases have been reported in France, Spain, Japan, the United Kingdom and Taiwan.

SOURCE: The Lancet 2001;358:1515-1516.

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