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The clinical use of Kampo medicines (traditional Japanese herbal treatments) for controlling cancer patients’ symptoms in Japan: a national cross-sectional survey

Satoru Iwase1, Takuhiro Yamaguchi2, Tempei Miyaji3*, Kiyoshi Terawaki4, Akio Inui5 and Yasuhito Uezono4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Palliative Medicine, The University of Tokyo Hospital, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan

2 Division of Biostatistics, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, 1-1 Seiryo-machi, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi, 980-8574, Japan

3 Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan

4 Division of Cancer Pathophysiology, National Cancer Center Research Institute, 5-1-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0045, Japan

5 Department of Psychosomatic Internal Medicine, Kagoshima University Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, 8-35-1 Sakuragaoka, Kagoshima, 890-8520, Japan

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:222  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-222

Published: 20 November 2012



Kampo medicines are traditional Japanese medicines produced from medicinal plants and herbs. Even though the efficacy of Kampo medicines for controlling cancer-related symptoms is being reported, their actual nationwide clinical use has not been comprehensively investigated. We aimed to investigate physicians’ recognition of Kampo medicines and their clinical use for cancer patients in the field of palliative care.


A cross-sectional self-administered anonymous questionnaire was distributed to 549 physicians working in palliative care teams at 388 core cancer treatment hospitals and 161 certified medical institutions that have palliative care units (PCUs).


Valid responses were obtained from 311 physicians (response rate, 56.7%) who were evenly distributed throughout the country without significant geographical biases. Kampo medicines were prescribed for controlling cancer-related symptoms by 64.3% of the physicians. The symptoms treated with Kampo medicines were numbness/hypoesthesia (n = 99, 49.5%), constipation (n = 76, 38.0%), anorexia/weight loss (n = 72, 36%), muscle cramps (n = 71, 35.5%) and languor/fatigue (n = 64, 32.0%). Regarding open issues about prescription, 60.7% (n = 173) of the physicians raised the issue that the dosage forms need to be better devised.


To increase the clinical use of Kampo medicines, more evidence from clinical studies is necessary. In addition, their mechanisms of action should be clarified through laboratory studies.

Kampo; Kampo medicine; Palliative care; Symptom management; Survey