Short term side-effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, mucositis and myelosuppression or neutropenia. These occur during the course of treatment and generally resolve within months of completion of chemotherapy. A variety of Chinese medicinal herbs have been used for managing these side effects. To assess the effectiveness and safety of Chinese medicinal herbs in alleviating chemotherapy-induced short term side effects in breast cancer patients. We searched The Cochrane Breast Cancer Specialised Register (15/02/2007), The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 4); MEDLINE (1966 to December 2006); EMBASE (1990 to December 2006); and Chinese Biomedical Literature (2006, Issue 4). A number of journals were hand searched. Randomised controlled trials comparing chemotherapy with or without Chinese herbs in women with breast cancer. Two authors independently extracted the data, which were analysed using RevMan 4.2. For dichotomous data, we estimated the relative risk. For continuous data, we calculated the weighted mean difference. We identified seven randomised controlled trials involving 542 breast cancer patients undergoing or having recently undergone chemotherapy. All studies were conducted and published in China. We did not pool the results because few studies were identified and no more than two used the same intervention. All were of low quality and used CMH plus chemotherapy compared with chemotherapy alone.CMH combined with chemotherapy showed no statistically significant difference for the outcomes of phlebitis and alopecia. Only one study showed an improvement in nausea and vomiting, and in fatigue. Three indicated an improvement in white blood cells in the group receiving CMH. Two showed an increase in percentage changes in T-lymphocyte subsets CD4 and CD8. One study showed a statistically significant difference for CMH in percentage changes in T-lymphocyte subsets CD3, CD4 and CD8. Two herbal compounds may have improved quality of life. One study reported that CMH may have some effect on reducing toxicity in liver and kidney, but differences were not statistically significant. This review provides limited evidence about the effectiveness and safety of Chinese medicinal herbs in alleviating chemotherapy induced short term side effects. Chinese medicinal herbs, when used together with chemotherapy, may offer some benefit to breast cancer patients in terms of bone marrow improvement and quality of life, but the evidence is too limited to make any confident conclusions. Well designed clinical trials are required before any conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness and safety of CHM in the management of breast cancer patients.

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