Research ArticleCancer

Aristolochic acids and their derivatives are widely implicated in liver cancers in Taiwan and throughout Asia

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Science Translational Medicine  18 Oct 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 412, eaan6446
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan6446

The dark side of an herbal medicine

Aristolochic acid, an herbal compound found in many traditional medicines, had been previously linked to kidney failure, as well as cancers of the urinary tract. Because of these known toxicities, herbs containing this compound have been restricted or banned in some countries, but it is still available on the internet and in alternate formulations. By analyzing numerous samples from Taiwan and other countries in Asia and elsewhere, Ng et al. demonstrated the effects of aristolochic acid in hepatocellular carcinoma, a much more common tumor type. The authors showed that the use of this drug remains widespread in Asia and particularly in Taiwan, and that it appears to increase the risk of multiple different cancer types.