White button mushroom powder and recurrent prostate cancer


A small Phase I clinical trial in just 36 patients, funded by the Mushroom Growers of Australia and North America, has suggested that powdered mushroom may have an effect on PSA levels of at least some men with recurrent prostate cancer after first-line therapy.

We can be clear that this study (by Twardowski et al.) was probably well carried out, since it was conducted at the City of Hope (an institution with a high reputation in southern California) and has been published in Cancer (a journal with a high reputation published by the American Association for Cancer Research), but it’s going to need a lot more data to convince most physicians to treat men with biochemically recurrent prostate cancer with something as bland as white button mushroom powder!

Twardowski et al. enrolled a total of 36 patients into this study, all of whom had continuously rising PSA levels after first-line treatment. Since this was a Phase I study designed to find the highest possible, safe level of mushroom powder that could be administered to the patients, the patients were divided into six cohorts of six patients, such that no more than one patient per cohort could be exposed to dose-limiting toxicity by getting an excessively high dose of the mushroom powder (made from the mushroom Agaricus bisporus).

Here are the study’s basic findings:

  • No patient at all experienced dose-limiting toxicity.
  • Two patients, treated with 8 g/day and 14 g/day of the mushroom powder, had complete responses to treatment.
    • Their PSA levels decreased to undetectable levels and remained there for 49 and 30 months.
  • Another two patients, treated with 8 g/day and 12 g/day, had partial responses.
  • The overall PSA response rate was 11 percent.
  • After 3 months on treatment, 13/26 patients (36 percent) patients showed some degree of decrease in their PSA level to below its baseline level at study enrollment.
  • The four patients with complete and partial responses had higher levels of  interleukin-15 at baseline than the non-responders.

The authors conclude that treatment with white button mushroom powder

appears to both impact PSA levels and modulate the biology of biochemically recurrent prostate cancer by decreasing immunosuppressive factors.

Frankly, it is hard to know what to make of these data. Is it possible that some men with biochemically recurrent prostate cancer really can have complete long-term responses to mushroom powder? Yes, sure it is. Conversely, is it likely that most men with biochemically recurrent prostate cancer are really going to have long-term therapeutic responses to mushroom powder? Well, no, it really isn’t based on what we know at the present.

The paper’s abstract tells us almost nothing useful about the 36 men in this study except that there were 36 of them and they all had biochemically recurrent disease … so there are a lot of unanswered questions that may be answered in the full text of the paper. Did the men who responded have very low PSA doubling times, for example? Was there anything else about them (other than the higher levels of  interleukin-15 at baseline) that was unusual?

If you wanted to “try this at home”, how much white button mushroom powder should you be using? (Apparently somewhere between 8 and 14 g/day.) It seems that you can purchase white button mushroom powder on line for about $60 for 1,000 grams (or you can also pay a lot more). But before you do that, The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink prescribes a long conversation with your doctor(s).

And then there is the question of whether mushroom powder made from white button mushrooms is “best”? What about shiitake mushroom powder or cremini mushroom powder or (for the gourmets among us) powdered morels?

Last but not least, there is another question about this trial? How come it took 7 years to carry it out and publish the results? It was started back in 2008.

6 Responses

  1. My question when I first read of this was what part of the mushroom was powdered and used in this study?

    I have read of the roots (mycelium) being studied (by beekeepers treating bee viruses) as packed with compounds. That portion is not likely included in internet sales.

  2. Turkey Tail Mushroom has been successfully tried and tested for bladder cancer. It is recommended for prostate cancer by Dr. Donald Abrams, head of integrative medicine at UCSF Cancer Center and chief oncologist at San Francisco General. He also recommends reishi mushrooms, although they should be alternated and not taken at the same time. Here’s a good link to Abram’s recommendations, including some trial links.

  3. Dear Rick:

    While there has been extensive evidence over the years of biologic and clinical activity of mushrooms and mushroom extracts as potential anti-cancer agents (see this very detailed review), I am aware of very, very little evidence of mushrooms having any therapeutic effect — on their own or even in combination with other agents — in the actual treatment of cancer. I am not aware of any evidence at all of therapeutic impact from what most scientists would consider to be a decent sized, well-constructed clinical trial.

    As I understand it, even Dr. Abrams considers that most of the integrative therapies he suggests (mushrooms included) only have value when they are used as one element in cancer treatment regimens.

    There was a very nice and straightforward article on this topic in The Guardian newspaper a little over a year ago.

  4. I absolutely agree that mushrooms be used as complementary therapy to first line treatment. The most referenced research is the University of Minnesota/Bastyr University study that supplemented chemo/radiation with Tramates versicolor for women with breast cancer. I would have to agree with you that this is hardly reliable evidence given its tiny size.

    On the other hand, I liken turkey tail supplement to chicken soup — harmless and it certainly can’t hurt!

  5. Rick:

    True. But if I am going to have the mushrooms, gimme the morrels (Morchella spp.) every time (unless black truffles are on offer!)

  6. If you live out my way and know where to look, golden chanterelles aren’t too bad either!

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