Herbal Medicine & Cancer Treatment

Patients take prescriptions and over-the-counter pain relievers every day. It's not something we often consider, but many of the pills we take contain ingredients derived from plants. Botanical or herbal medicine is one of many treatment options for cancer patients. This begs the question: can herbs help fight mesothelioma?

Image of herbs and an orange on a table.

Treating Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma With Botanicals

Image of herbs in a wooden bowl.After receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients usually follow a standard treatment plan, which includes radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. This combination is known as first-line therapy and utilizes medications that have been tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the medical community, substances derived from plants are referred to as botanicals (also referred to herbal medicine). There’s no conclusive research proving they’re an effective standalone cancer treatment, but some patients may benefit from adding herbs and spices to daily meals or taking them in supplement form. Certain botanicals may ease common side effects, including nausea and inflammation, that arise from more traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

Herbal Medicine Options for Mesothelioma Patients

Botanicals are easy to find at grocery stores, local gardens, or neighborhood farmer’s markets. Here’s a list of herbs and spices that may be beneficial for patients fighting mesothelioma.


Comprised of the stems, leaves, or flowers from plants, fresh or dried herbs are an easy and delicious way to add flavor to food. Patients who want a more concentrated dose can find specific herbs in supplement form.

Basil: Usually associated with Italian cooking, this herb has is sweet and pungent, and has a flavor that may compliment a variety of dishes, not just pizza and pasta. According to the results of a 1998 study, basil is an antimutagenic herb, which means it may prevent healthy cells from mutating into diseased cells. Basil is also antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.

Rosemary: It’s full of antioxidants, smells a bit like pine needles, and adds an earthy, savory kick to almost any dish. When researchers studied rosemary, they discovered this herb contains two active compounds, rosmarinic acid, and carnosic acid, which may slow tumor growth.


Spices are extracted from the bark, seed, root, or fruit of a plant, and add distinct flavors and colors to food. Certain spices may help reduce inflammation in the body and boast antimicrobial properties.

Ginger: This spice adds a sweet and spicy kick to everything from sushi rolls to dessert. Ginger contains natural compounds that stimulate digestive juices and may reduce nausea in mesothelioma patients or veterans who are receiving chemotherapy. Sprinkle a bit of ginger powder on fish or chicken to add extra flavor. Tummy troubles? Combine two slices of raw ginger root, hot water, and honey to make to stomach-soothing herbal medicine tea.

Turmeric: Part of the ginger family, this brightly-colored orange herb is a popular cooking spice around the world. Turmeric contains a potent substance called curcumin, which has demonstrated both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties in studies involving lab rats. However, there is no evidence it prevents cancer in humans, and it may also interfere with certain chemotherapy drugs.

Additional Cancer-Fighting Botanicals

Garlic: As part of the allium family, which includes shallots, scallions, and onions, garlic isn’t considered a spice or an herb. However, this bulb is packed with powerful antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. According to lab studies, garlic can also slow the growth of cancer cells, repair DNA, and relieve joint inflammation. Enjoy it sauteed, raw, or roasted.

Moringa Oleifera: This plant is grown in the warm, tropical regions of Asia, Africa, and South America. Moringa is antiviral, antibacterial, and is said to contain high amounts of minerals, vitamins, and proteins. It also includes a cancer-fighting compound called niazimicin. Moringa leaves are either crushed into a powder and taken as a supplement or consumed in tea.

Herbal Medicine: Potential Side Effects

Small amounts of fresh herbs, like basil or rosemary, are typically safe. However, mesothelioma patients should check with their doctor before taking supplements, herbal medicine, or more concentrated doses. According to studies conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, botanicals may affect the way the body processes medication. Specific mechanisms in plants may prevent cancer drugs from metabolizing correctly, increasing side effects, or even making the therapy less effective. Oncologists often suggest patients avoid taking vitamins, herbs, or other supplements during chemotherapy treatments.