Anticancer attributes of desert plants: A review

Eli Harlev, Eviatar Nevo, Ephraim P. Lansky, Shifra Lansky, Anupam Bishayee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The ever-increasing emergence of the resistance of mammalian tumor cells to chemotherapy and its severe side effects reduces the clinical efficacy of a large variety of anticancer agents that are currently in use. Thus, despite the significant progress in cancer therapeutics in the last decades, the need to discover and to develop new, alternative, or synergistic anticancer agents remains. Cancer prevention or chemotherapy based on bioactive fractions or pure components derived from desert plants with known cancer-inhibiting properties suggests promising alternatives to current cancer therapy. Plants growing on low nutrient soils and/or under harsh climatic conditions, such as extreme temperatures, intense solar radiation, and water scarcity, are particularly susceptible to attack from reactive oxygen species and have evolved efficient antioxidation defense systems. The many examples of desert plants displaying anticancer effects as presented here indicates that the same defensive secondary metabolites protecting them against the harsh environment may also play a protective or a curative role against cancer, as they also do against diabetes, neurodegenerative, and other acute and chronic diseases. The present review highlights a plethora of studies focused on the antineoplastic properties of desert plants and their prinicipal phytochemicals, such as saponins, flavonoids, tannins, and terpenes. Although many desert plants have been investigated for their antitumor properties, there are many that still remain to be explored - a challenge for the prospective cancer therapy of the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-271
Number of pages17
JournalAnti-Cancer Drugs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Anticancer drugs
  • Chemoprevention
  • Desert plants
  • Flavonoids
  • Saponins
  • Tannins
  • Therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Cancer Research


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