Shikonin is the major constituent of the root of Lithospermum erythrorhizon, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat external wounds, burns, or dermatitis for centuries. Nowadays, this root is commonly used as an herbal medicine against cancer. Studies carried out over the past 30 years have demonstrated that many of the effects historically associated with the use of this root have a scientific basis, with shikonin and its derivatives being responsible for its pharmacological properties. These include both anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects. While previous summaries have focused on the pharmacokinetics and toxicity of shikonin, the aim of this review is to report on the most current findings with regard to shikonin’s antitumor activity by summarizing and comparing the various studies published in the last ten years and discussing the pharmacological aspects that make shikonin a promising anticancer agent.
Keywords: Breast cancer, chemoprevention, Lithospermum erythrorhizon, necroptosis, shikonin, traditional chinese medicine.