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CancerGuide: Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Evaluating Alternative Therapies
Separating The Wheat From the Chaff (will open in new window!)
Promising Therapies
+ PSK
Lesser Known Therapies
+ Sun Soup
Popular Therapies
Essiac
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Sun Farms Vegetable Soup

Sun Soup is a mixture of vegetables and herbs for treating cancer which was developed by Alexander Sun Ph.D., a biochemist who once worked at Yale University. This therapy is little known, but has been touted by some alternative therapy advocates, including Pat McGrady Jr., who I respect. Until recently there was little in the way of publicly available evidence to suggest that Sun Soup works, but Dr. Sun and others have published results from small clinical trials in 1999 and in 2001.

I have an empty container of this soup sent by a friend that lists the ingredients as:

Water, Soybean, Mushroom, Red Date, Scallion, Garlic, Lentil Bean, Leek, Mung Bean, Hawthorn Fruit, Onion, American Ginseng, Angelica Root, Licorice, Dandelion Root, Senegal Root, Ginger, Olive, Sesame Seed, and Parsley.

While it might seem quite improbable that a soup consisting mainly of ordinary vegetables and common medicinal herbs could be effective against such a tenacious and difficult disease as cancer, some of the ingredients do have, or may have, anti-tumor activity, and one ought not assume that non-toxic plants have no potential for fighting cancer, since in some cases, particularly medicinal mushroom extracts, there is substantial evidence. Dr. Sun refers to the anti-tumor and immune enhancing effects of the individual ingredients of his soup as "modest" in his clinical trial report; presumably any benefit is due to a synergism of these modest effects.

Dr. Sun's Patent

Aside from the clinical trials, the only piece of publicly available documentation I have come across is US Patent # 5437866, "Herbal Treatment of Malignancy", issued to Alexander Sun. This lists just four ingredients, Shitake Mushroom, Mung Bean, and two whose common names I don't know, Hedyotis Diffusa, and Scutellaria Barbata. I presume this patent relates to Sun Soup, and that therefore the "mushroom" in Sun Soup is Shitake mushroom. A polysaccharide extract of the Shitake mushroom called lentinan has been extensively researched by the Japanese, and has been found to be of benefit as adjuvant therapy in stomach and colorectal cancer. However, almost all the work with lentinan has been with injected lentinan rather than orally administered lentinan.

[MedLine Search on Lentinan]

The patent describes mouse experiments with shitake, mung bean, and the other herbs. The results presented show some inhibition of tumor growth in three experiments, and dramatic inhibition in a fourth using a different tumor model from the other three. The fourth experiment was also intended to show that shitake and mung bean are synergistic in effect, and that appeared to be the case in the data presented. If Sun Soup actually works, this synergism may be the key to why it works. These experiments used only four or five mice in each experimental group, and there's no report of whether the experiments were replicated, so it's hard to be confident of the results, though they may be correct.

Results in four patients with cancer are also described in the patent. All four patients were also treated with a Japanese chemotherapy drug called SMANCS, so I consider these cases inconclusive because the effect of the chemotherapy and the effects of the Sun Soup cannot be clearly distinguished. In one of the cases, tumors that appeared while the patient was on SMANCS disappeared when Sun Soup was added. This perhaps gives some hint of activity, but it is far from enough to draw a positive conclusion. Some of these patients did survive for many years, but a natural question is whether the effective treatment was SMANCS rather than Sun Soup. A MedLine search on SMANCS shows that there is much more published research behind it than there is for Sun Soup, much of it on the treatment of primary liver cancer.

[MedLine Search on SMANCS]

The Clinical Trials

The 1999 Report

This is a report of a rather unconventional clinical trial on non-small cell lung cancer which has both intriguing results and some real problems. There were what amount to two separate trials reported in the same paper. In the first, early stage (Stage I) patients who'd had treatment were given Sun Soup to see if any side effects could be detected. In the second, some patients with advanced (Stage IIIa, IIIb and IV) non-small lung cancer were given Sun Soup along with conventional treatment, and their survival, weight loss, and ability to function were compared to patients who got also conventional treatment but did not take Sun Soup.

Positive Results

  • There was no sign of side effects in the early stage (stage I) patients.
  • Not one of the early stage patients relapsed over two years - normally one would expect a significant percentage of relapses.
  • Median survival was greatly improved in the advanced patients: 15.5 months vs. 4.8 months for control.
  • The advanced stage patients who took Sun Soup maintained their weight while the controls lost weight.
  • The Sun Soup patients remained healthier than the control patients who "deteriorated rapidly" as measured by the standard Karnofsky Performance Status scale.
  • Stage IIIa has a substantially better prognosis than Stage IIIb or IV - this could present a problem since all three stages were included in varying proportions in the control and treatment groups, but the proportion of IIIb and IV patients was actually slightly higher in the treatment group.

Major Problems

  • The trial was tiny - the Stage I group was only 5 patients, and in the trial on advanced disease only 6 patients took Sun Soup while there were 13 "control" patients. This small size reduces the reliability of these results.
  • The control and Sun Soup groups for the advanced trial were self selected - patients decided which group they wanted to be in - rather than randomized. Which raises the question of a systematic difference between the two groups. Maybe people who are willing to try something new are also more motivated people, who would do better with any treatment. I found it surprising that about 2/3 of patients refused the Sun Soup.
  • There was no standardization in the conventional treatment patients got, and details about exactly what that treatment was are entirely lacking from the report. This is a serious problem since it would be very easy for some difference in the conventional treatments to account for the results. The trial was conducted in Czechoslovakia (I have no idea why) and the median survival of 4.8 months in the control group looks to be less than what you might expect with the best treatment (though with the small group one cannot say the conventional treatment was definitely inferior). But this certainly does appear to leave "room" for differences in the conventional treatment to explain the data.

Reference and Abstract:

Phase I/II study of stage III and IV non-small cell lung cancer patients taking a specific dietary supplement. Nutrition and Cancer 1999;34(1):62-9

Sun AS, Ostadal O, Ryznar V, Dulik I, Dusek J, Vaclavik A, Yeh HC, Hsu C, Bruckner HW, Fasy TM

This phase I/II study evaluates the influence of selected vegetables (SV) that contain known antitumor components on the survival of stage III-IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. All patients were treated with conventional therapies. SV was added to the daily diet of 5 stage I patients in the toxicity study group (TG) and 6 stage III and IV patients in the treatment group (SVG), but not to the diet of 13 stage III and IV patients in the control group (CG). Age, Karnofsky performance status (KPS), and body mass index of SVG and CG patients were comparable at entry. KPS declined in the CG patients (79 +/- 8 to 55 +/- 11) but improved in the SVG patients (75 +/- 8 to 80 +/- 13) one to three months after entry. Weight change in the CG, SVG, and TG patients was -12 +/- 5%, -2 +/- 2%, and +4 +/- 4%, respectively. The median survival time and mean survival of the CG patients were 4 and 4.8 months, but in the SVG patients they were 15.5 and 15 months (p < 0.01). No clinical signs of toxicity were found in the TG patients in the 24-month study period. Adding SV to the daily diet of NSCLC patients was found to be nontoxic and associated with improved weight maintenance, KPS, and survival of stage III and IV NSCLC patients.

The 2001 Report

This study is similar to the 1999 study in that the disease studied was non- small cell lung cancer, the number of patients is small, and again most patients received concurrent therapy, including radiation and chemotherapy. As before, the exact concurrent therapy is not specified, and was not standardized. And again only historical controls were used.

Some differences are that it was limited to advanced stage (IIIb or IV) patients, and that two patients with stage IV disease were treated with Sun Soup only.

The results again are encouraging. Many patients survived for far longer than one would expect. In addition, most had relatively severe symptoms and disability when they started Sun Soup (and concurrent treatment) and were close to asymptomatic after a few months of treatment. I find it especially encouraging that the two patients who took Sun Soup alone were reported as having ongoing partial responses lasting from more than two to almost three years. This would indicate an independent biological effect of Sun Soup. Only two cases are thin evidence, but it is some evidence. It would be reassuring if there were another independent review of these important cases. These two cases do not provide a reasonable justification for using Sun Soup as sole treatment.

I find it peculiar that the patients were treated between 1992 and 1997, but results were not reported until now (2001). In addition, almost all the patients were treated at different hospitals by different doctors. It is not clear at all that there was a prospective protocol, or whether these were patients who were actually treated ad hoc and the results analyzed afterwards. If this wasn't a prospective protocol then there is danger that there was bias which resulted in more spectacularly successful cases being entered into the trial.

Reference and Full Text Link:

Pilot Study of a Specific Dietary Supplement in Tumor-Bearing Mice and in Stage IIIB and IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Patients. Nutrition and Cancer 39(1):85-95, 2001.

Sun AS, Yeh HC, Wang LH, Huang YP, Maeda H, Pivazyan A, Hsu C, Lewis ER, Fasy TM

Full text of this study is available on MedScape. Access to MedScape (which I think is the best general medical site on the net) requires registration but it's free.

Click Here for Full Text of This Article On MedScape


My Opinion

The evidence for Sun Soup, though continuing to develop through the efforts of Dr. Sun, is still quite sketchy. Yet what there is actually exceeds the evidence for many other alternatives, and it can be used with conventional therapy. It is relatively simple to take, and has no apparent side effects. (In the complete absence of toxicity, and the possible benefits it would be fair to consider the substance to possibly be anti-toxic rather than toxic.) The downside is that it is also relatively expensive (see below). Still, if I had non-small cell lung cancer and could afford it, I would seriously consider using it with other therapy - there seems to be little to lose and everything to gain. But, given the "thin" evidence to date, under no circumstances would I rely on it as sole therapy. If I did decide to use it, I would continue to monitor the literature for new results.

I also think that while the design of the 1999 trial had serious shortcomings, it also provides a glimmer of a model for evaluating demonstrably non-toxic therapies in conjunction with standard therapy on the basis of survival and quality of life indices without and interfering with standard treatment. With more rigor, more convincing results might be obtained. Perhaps these results could never be as rigorous as those obtained through the standard research process. The standard methodology evaluates treatments by themselves, before evaluating them combinations with other drugs, which proves that there is a biological effect on the tumor by showing that the treatment can cause tumor shrinkages or disappearance. But perhaps it is rational not to require that the evidence be as definitive when the therapy is non-toxic (or indeed anti-toxic), and when the therapy is not a replacement for standard treatment, but is added it.

Contact Information

I understand the treatment is fairly expensive, costing in the range of several hundred dollars a month. See Sun Farms' website for additional information on Sun Soup and for how to order.



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This CancerGuide Page By Steve Dunn. © Steve Dunn
Page Created: 1996, Last Updated: October 7, 2001