The use of mushrooms in medicine dates back hundreds of years in ancient Chinese and Japanese Medicine. More than 100 varieties of medicinal mushrooms have been known to possess a wide range of properties which promote good health and help fight diseases. While the more traditional uses were to treat infections, in China and Japan, medicinal mushrooms have been used in cancer treatments for the last 30 years. While many researchers are currently studying the benefits of mushrooms in cancer treatment, you should evaluate any claims of miraculous mushroom treatments carefully

Mushrooms and Cancer

The following effects of mushrooms make them useful in cancer treatments:

Over the years, many laboratory, animal and human tests have provided evidence of the effectiveness of mushrooms in the following types of cancers:

  • Bladder
  • Breast
  • Cervical/uterine
  • Colorectal
  • Gastric/stomach
  • Leukemia and Myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Liver
  • Lung
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Ovarian
  • Prostate
  • Sarcoma

It is important to remember that there is no proof of medicinal mushrooms solely being able to treat cancer. All evidence points to the fact that they offer benefits when used along with other evidence-based therapies/ treatments.

The benefits that many cancer patients have derived from mushrooms are as follows:

  • Improved appetite
  • Reduced anxiety or stress levels
  • Lesser fatigue
  • Enhancement of cognition
  • Better overall mood and quality of life
  • Reduced side-effects of conventional treatments

Key Points

  • Over 100 species of medicinal mushrooms are used in Asia and approved for use as an adjuvant (supplement) to cancer treatment in China and Japan.
  • In China and Japan, medicinal mushrooms, used as single agents or in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, have a clinical history of safe use.
  • Lab, animal and/or human studies suggest that several medicinal mushrooms have direct or indirect anticancer effects and/or manage side effects and/or improve quality of life in a number of cancers.
  • Evidence is insufficient that medicinal mushrooms are a cure or stand-alone treatment for cancer.
  • Side effects of most medicinal mushrooms are typically mild and temporary. Allergic reactions are possible, and medical supervision is advised, preferably from a licensed clinician with experience in prescribing medicinal mushrooms.
  • Some medicinal mushrooms are edible and can be eaten as food. Others are widely available without prescription in capsule, liquid tincture, and powdered form. Strength and purity of products can vary significantly. Read labels carefully. and consider consulting with a healthcare professional experienced in using medicinal mushrooms for guidance in product selection.
  • Raw mushrooms contain toxins that may be harmful. Edible mushrooms, whether medicinal or culinary (such as white, cremini, or portobello mushrooms) should be cooked before being eaten.

Here is a quick look at some mushrooms with demonstrated abilities in the treatment of cancer:

Agaricus blazei Murill
Useful Links:

1. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Agaricus


3. Fujimiya Y, Suzuki Y, Oshiman K, et al. Selective tumoricidal effect of soluble proteoglucan extracted from the basidiomycete, Agaricus blazei Murill, mediated via natural killer cell activation and apoptosis. Cancer Immunol Immunother. May 1998;46(3):147-159

4. Kimura Y, Kido T, Takaku T, et al. Isolation of an anti-angiogenic substance from Agaricus blazei Murill: its antitumor and antimetastatic actions. Cancer Sci. Sep 2004;95(9):758-764


Cordyceps Sinensis
Useful Links:

1. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Cordyceps



4. Zhu JS, Halpern GM, Jones K. The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient Chinese herbal regime: Cordyceps sinensis, Part I. J Altern Complement Med 1998;4:289-303.

5. Wu WC, Hsiao JR, Lian YY, et al. The apoptotic effect of cordycepin on human OEC-M1 oral cancer cell line. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2007 Jun;60(1):103-11


Reishi Mushroom or

Ganoderma lucidum

Useful Links:

1. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Reishi Mushroom


3. Dr. Axe. Reishi Mushroom: Fight Cancer, Boost Immunity & Improve Liver Detox

4. Chen HS, Tsai YF, Lin S, et al. Studies on the immuno-modulating and anti-tumor activities of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) polysaccharides. Bioorg Med Chem. Nov 1 2004;12(21):5595-5601.

5. Gao Y, Zhou S, Jiang W, et al. Effects of ganopoly (a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in advanced-stage cancer patients. Immunol Invest. Aug 2003;32(3):201-215.


Useful Links:

1. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Maitake 


3. Adachi K, Nanba H, Kuroda H. Potentiation of host-mediated antitumor activity in mice by beta glucan obtained from Grifola frondosa (maitake). Chem Pharm Bull 1987;35:262-70.

4. Kodama N, Komuta K, Nanba H. Can Maitake MD-fraction aid cancer patients? Altern Med Rev 2002;7:236-9.


Shiitake or

Lentinus edodes

Useful Links:

1. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Shiitake Mushroom 

2. Dr. Axe: Shiitake Mushrooms: 8 scientifically proven benefits.

3. Ng ML, Yap AT. Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). J Altern Complement Med 2002;8(5):581-589

4. Wang KP, Zhang QL, Liu Y, Wang J, Cheng Y, Zhang Y. Structure and inducing tumor cell apoptosis activity of polysaccharides isolated from Lentinus edodes. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Oct 16;61(41):9849-58.

Despite the benefits of mushrooms listed above, it is important that you consult with a healthcare professional with proficiency in prescribing medicinal mushrooms. You can talk to a naturopath, integrated medicine physician, Chinese medicine practitioner, etc.

References & More Information

  1. Credit: Beyond Conventional Care Therapies
  2. Integrative Oncology Cancer Care
  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products
  4. Patel S, Goyal A. Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. 3 Biotech. 2012 Mar;2(1):1-15
  5.  National Cancer Institute: Medicinal Mushrooms PDQ: Patient Version
  6. Cancer Research UK: Mushrooms in cancer treatment
  7. Weil A. Mushrooms for Good Health? Andrew Weil, MD. February 17, 2014. Viewed February 15, 2018.
  8. Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition:
  9. Andrew Weil, MD: Mushrooms For Good Health?

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