THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR A DOCTOR. YOU SHOULDN’T USE IT FOR THE PURPOSE OF SELF-DIAGNOSING OR SELF-MEDICATING BUT RATHER SO YOU CAN HAVE A MORE INFORMED DISCUSSION WITH A PROFESSIONAL TCM PRACTITIONER OR YOUR FAMILY GP.
Every day more than 5000 people globally are newly diagnosed with some form of cancer.
Every year over 20000 cancer related death occurs in Singapore, making cancer the most common cause of death. Cancer touches all of our lives, but it is in many cases preventable and treatable. Acupuncture and TCM offer alternative methods of care that can help people who are at risk or already battling cancer to improve their chances against this seemingly relentless form of disease.
In the past few decades, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) have become widely recognized as effective ways to both enhance the efficacy of conventional medical treatments for cancer, as well as providing palliative care for the pain and other unpleasant symptoms caused by both the disease itself and the negative side effects caused by cancer treatments.
A systematic review of the use of acupuncture as an adjunct to surgery and/or chemotherapy concluded: “Recent advances in acupuncture clinical research suggest that acupuncture may provide clinical benefit for cancer patients with treatment-related side effects such as nausea and vomiting, post operative pain, cancer related pain, chemotherapy-induced leukopenia, post chemotherapy fatigue, xerostomia, and possibly insomnia, anxiety and quality of life.”
Cancer is a comprehensive term that refers to a wide variety of diseases caused by abnormal cell growth in the body. When old or mutated cells begin to duplicate they can create masses, or tumors, that compress and damage adjacent healthy tissues. Some forms of cancer cause abnormal cells to multiply within the blood. Most cancers are named according to where they begin in the body, and there are over a hundred different types. The most common are breast cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
Cancers are usually diagnosed based on physical examinations, laboratory tests, imaging tests (CT scan, MRI, bone scan, or ultrasound), and/or tissue biopsy. A treatment plan will be based on many factors, including the type and stage (how far it has spread) of the cancer and a patient’s overall health aside from the cancer.
The most common types of oncology procedures are:
The side effects of these treatments will affect people to different degrees depending on their constitution, but in many cases, they are severe. They can totally disrupt life and work, leading to feelings of loss and depression.
Committing to conventional treatment for cancer is a difficult decision for every individual. Treatment requires a lot of scheduled time, help from friends and relatives, and extra resources so that the patient can recuperate. Some people may have mixed feelings about aggressive treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation and be uncomfortable with the idea of putting toxic chemicals into their bodies. Concerns about how serious side effects may impact their lives and those of their family can lead to even more anxiety.
Acupuncture and TCM offer an alternative form of care that can in many cases mitigate the uncomfortable side effects caused by medical treatments, allowing patients to withstand the courses of treatment recommended by their oncologists. For those who may want to forego or delay aggressive treatment to pursue a more natural course, acupuncture and TCM can provide a comprehensive, holistic plan to boost immunity, improve nutrition and sleep, remove toxins from the body, and clear the way for healing.
Side effects of common oncology treatments that can be helped with TCM include:
The concept of the balancing energies of yin and yang is central to TCM. From the TCM viewpoint, radiation therapy applies extreme yang energy to the body, in effect, “cooking” the tissues. This can destroy the cancerous tumors, but it also dries and weakens blood and bone marrow, which can compromise nutrition and natural immune function. Chemotherapy is a form of yin energy, poisoning the cancer cells, but also inhibiting the flow of nourishment and warm energy through the body. TCM attempts not only to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms caused by these oncology treatments, but to offset their negative effects on the organ systems.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been used for thousands of years to treat conditions known today as cancers. Today, using combinations of Western medical practices and TCM modalities to treat cancer is widely accepted. At China Medical University (CMU Taiwan), doctors who are trained in Western-style medicine also receive training in TCM, and vice versa, so physicians of all specialties are aware of alternatives and integrative possibilities. In the United States and Taiwan, oncology research and progress is highly advanced, and we have the opportunity to create excellent integral care for patients who seek out CAM modalities such as acupuncture to complement their other care.
Over 3000 years of written records show how in ancient times Chinese doctors identified and treated liu yan, or “lumps hard as rocks,” and zhong yang, or “inflamed ulcers.” Cancer treatment according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Fu Zheng Gu Ben principles. This means to “strengthen what is correct” and “secure the root.” This theory incorporates specific immune enhancing herbs. The objective is to support and stimulate deep energy systems within the body to make them more resistant to degeneration.
According to this TCM theory, tumors and other abnormal cellular formations are the result of accumulated blood, Qi, and dampness that have become toxic, causing stagnation and depletion of the vital essences of the life force energy. When masses form, they cause further obstruction and blockage of the free flow of Qi and blood.
At Sienmedicare, acupuncture and herbal interventions will focus on:
Treating the person, not just the disease, our physician takes a holistic approach to cancer care to help improve quality of life for our patients. This means that not only test results and symptoms are considered, but also lifestyle, emotional state, and overall health. The whole being is taken into account, not just the localized cancer.
TCM acknowledges that the emotional life of the person plays a key role in health maintenance. According to TCM, cancers form because of stagnation due to constriction; long periods of grief and sadness can create these circumstances. Anger and anxiety can generate excess heat and lead to toxicity in the body. When these forces combine with exposure to toxins in the environment, food choices that exacerbate toxicity, lack of sleep, and increased stress, diseases like cancer can take hold. A qualified TCM provider works with patients to create the deep, lasting changes necessary to turn these forces around and bring the body back into balance.
Many recent studies aimed at investigating the effects of acupuncture for specific types of cancer have shown that patients experience statistically significant improvements.
Acupuncture can help relieve the joint pain and stiffness many women have due to the aromatase inhibitors they are prescribed after breast cancer surgery. It has also been shown to reduce hot flashes and night sweats, which affect the majority of breast cancer patients and survivors.
People with advanced stage lung cancer had less pain and clinically significant improvement of overall well-being after receiving at least six acupuncture treatments.
Chinese herbal formulae are vital to the TCM approach to cancer. Herbs can work on a deep level to initiate change in the body. Depending on each individual presentation, an acupuncturist will choose herbs that help to inhibit growth of masses, dispel heat or cold, revitalize the blood and Qi, and resolve phlegm. One study treated advanced non-small-cell lung cancer patients with both chemotherapy and two decoctions of herbs meant to nourish Qi and replenishjing. The patients taking Chinese herbs had higher survival rates than those in the control group.
Research into how TCM specifically treats liver cancer with herbal formulations to strengthen the spleen and clear heat and toxins showed that patients taking the herbs in addition to chemotherapy experienced decreases in the size, growth and spread of cancerous liver masses and lived longer.
Aside from pain and nausea, insomnia and anxiety are the most common problems related to undergoing cancer treatment. Acupuncture is a highly useful modality for helping to restore healthy sleep and prevent worries from becoming a chronic mental health issue. When acupuncture and TCM are integrated into oncology care, maintaining a positive outlook during recovery and even establishing an overall healthier attitude towards life and health feels more achievable.