3 Ways TCM Benefits Cancer Patients

There is a reason why more and more conventional oncologists are working with traditional Chinese medicine as an adjunct therapy for their patients. Find out how this ancient health system is helping cancer patients getting more out of their treatments

Compared to Western medicine, TCM tends to be more holistic in its approach and evaluates the body as a whole. TCM views cancer as a disease caused by multiple factors, mainly:
• a weakened immune system
• invasion by bacteria
• emotional and psychological stress
• dietary stress

While Western medicine focuses on completely eradicating cancerous tumours from the body or slowing their growth, TCM aims to treat not just the symptoms but also the source of the problem. Being treated as more than just the sum of their symptoms, it is no wonder that many cancer patients have favourable views of TCM.

In a study published in Annals Academy of Medicine, 300 breast cancer patients at Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital were interviewed. Of these, 104 had used TCM and reported no ill effects from it; in fact, about 75% of them actually perceived a benefit from it9.

But TCM doesn’t just stop there. It can also strengthen the body’s defences and enhance its capacity for healing and maintaining health, thus slowing the growth of tumours and reducing the chance of metastasis. The slash-poison-burn approach of Western oncology can be draining. In TCM parlance, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation deplete qi, resulting in a weakened immune system.

TCM therapies can help to minimise these side-effects and aid recovery, thus enhancing the patient’s quality of life. On top of that, incorporating TCM therapies can strengthen the patient’s weakened immune system, delaying or preventing a relapse.

TCM can help cancer patients in three areas. It can:
• strengthen the body
• relieve side-effects of conventional therapies
• suppress tumour growth

What is impressive about TCM is that cancer patients can benefit from it before, during, and after conventional cancer treatment, reveals Mdm Dora Ng, a TCM physician from the complementary integrative medicine division of Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

For example, herbs can be consumed a couple of weeks ahead of surgery to boost the patient’s immunity and qi so that he is in better shape to go under the knife. Post-surgery, taking herbal tonics can promote the healing of wounds and boost the patient’s energy10.

Mdm Ng advises patients to stop or avoid taking Chinese herbs one week before surgery.

Many patients have found TCM to be efficacious in easing their symptoms from mainstream treatments; in some cases, it gives them the strength to continue treatment. He Qiu Ling, a senior TCM physician from Eu Yan Sang, a well-known TCM brand in Asia, cites the example of a 50-year-old chef suffering from nasopharyngeal cancer.

He had severe oral ulcers and a poor appetite after chemo and radiotherapy, and sought relief through TCM. He was diagnosed with qi, yin and blood deficiency, and prescribed a combination of herbs — including Nu Zhen Zi (Privet Fruit), Astragalus Root, Tian Hua Fen (Trichosanthes Root), Dried Longan, Wheat Sprouts, and Malt Sprouts — to “nourish his yin and blood, and invigorate his qi.”

Three weeks later, his appetite had improved, he was able to ingest soft foods, and his oral ulcers had healed. Other herbs were then added to further boost the immune system. Two months after the treatment, most of his symptoms were alleviated save for a slight thirst, and he was able to return to work and resume regular activities.

In TCM theory, there are five visceral organs, and they are associated with the five elements mentioned in Pt 1:

Organ Element
liver wood
lung metal
spleen earth
heart fire
kidney water

According to TCM, inflammation caused by cancer cells results in a worsening condition or metastasis. TCM believes that the accumulation of stagnated toxins — termed fire toxins — in the visceral organs and meridians can cause cancer.

Herbs that expel these toxins and reduce the inflammation caused by the cancer have been found to be not only beneficial in controlling the symptoms, they also help to suppress cancer growth to a degree, asserts Physician He.

TCM can improve your quality of life as a cancer patient. When correctly diagnosed and treated by a qualified physician, it is rare for side-effects to occur, says Physician He. She advises that it is best to consult a qualified physician for a thorough assessment of your body constitution. It is important that you inform your allopathic doctor if you plan undergo TCM treatments along with your conventional treatments. It is also vital that you inform your TCM physician what drugs you are on.

If you’ve jumped directly this second half of our Cancer article, go back to Pt 1 to better understand the principles of TCM.