Chinese Medicine and Cancer
This page is dedicated to information on cancer, and patient advocacy. Through education and encouragement a patient can make better choices in doctors, treatment options and self care.
What this page is not:
- a substitute for care under a qualified oncologist
- a substitute for care under a qualified practitioner of Chinese medicine
A cancer diagnosis:
A diagnosis of cancer is a traumatic experience. It takes time to process the mental and emotional turmoil. Yet, before this internal tornado has a chance to dissipate, you often must make quick decisions regarding your course of treatment. Sometimes the patient is given options; sometimes the oncologist strongly dictates only one. Very few people diagnosed with cancer have previously spent time thinking or researching cancer or its treatment options. Most people have the luxury to spend more time and thought in deciding which car to buy and which dealer to buy it from than in which cancer therapy to follow. Here are some tips:
Despite what some specialists proclaim, there are no absolutes in medicine, especially in oncology. Research is ongoing and as new studies are published and new technologies developed, physicians will change treatment selection. For instance, in prostate cancer, radical surgery to remove the entire prostate used to be standard, followed by brachytherapy or external radiation or chemotherapy. Then some studies found that prostate cancer often responded well to direct external radiation which had less overall long term side effects. Now phototherapy is emerging as a promising technique. Some recent studies even question whether treatment is necessary at all for certain conditions. Breast cancer has seen a similar evolution. Whereas radical mastectomy was the norm for many years, now much more conservative options may be available. In some cases, depending on the type of cancer and individual condition of the patient, several treatment options will be offered, and the physician will leave it up to the patient to decide.
I recommend to all my patients who are newly diagnosed that they see at least 2 or 3 specialists, preferably at different medical institutes. Be upfront that you are collecting several opinions and get printed copies of all tests, pathology reports and physician recommendations. Keep them organized in one binder for your records. Do this even if your institute offers online access! Also, ask each specialist you see, including your primary physician if they recommend a book or website that would help you understand your cancer. In most communities, there are also numerous support groups or centers available. Your oncologist or nursing staff should be able to provide brochures and contact information.
Most people and their families are so overwhelmed they opt to follow whatever their oncologist recommends. Many of my patients are like this, and I do not discourage this. However, remember that there are often several treatment choices, and one may have less future consequences than another, even with similar statistical survival rates. So it is important to take a little time to consider your condition and understand your options.
Being your own advocate can be extremely important to make the right choices. Make sure you are comfortable talking with your oncologist. Most oncologist are there for you and will offer you the treatment they sincerely feel is best. You should not feel intimidated by your oncologist. But if you unsure if your concerns are being addressed, then this itself needs to be discussed or you should consider finding a new doctor. Remember, this is your life!
What is CAM?
CAM stands for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This is an umbrella term that includes massage, acupuncture (Chinese Medicine), chiropractics, naturopathy, and so forth. This non-specificity can be misleading and make it appear that Chinese Medicine only has a minor therapeutic role. In the west, most people only have heard about acupuncture and that it is helpful to relax, or balance energy, or boost the immune system. Yet, acupuncture is only one part of the vast body of Chinese Medicine.
Chinese medicine includes an amazing diagnostic system, and powerful therapeutics with a wide selection of treatment options. Of these, the most common is herbal formulas, acupuncture and tuina.
Chinese herbal medicine comprises a selection of thousands of herbs. The past masters have selected combinations of these herbs making formulas so effective that even after 2000 years many continue to be used commonly in clinics throughout the world. Of interest to some readers, modern research continues to find that both the single herbs and combined herbal formulas have support the classic use of these formulas.
Acupuncture is another ‘wing’ of the Chinese medical system. It is the most popular and commonly recognized therapeutic tool of Chinese medicine outside of Asia. Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles or other stimulus (finger pressure, vacuum cups, scraping edges, heat from moxa) that acts to excite or tamper the functioning of various body system and release ‘knotted-up’ areas in the body. Many people enjoy acupuncture for its ability to relax the mind and body as well as to ‘balance’ body systems. It is accepted in the greater medical community (including insurance companies) n the US as an effective agent for pain management. In Asia, along with herbal medicine, it has served as a major therapeutic tool for disease and discomfort.
While practitioners each have different regimens, I have found that for ongoing medical related issues, acupuncture sessions 1 to 2 times per week is ideal.
Tuina (two-ey-nah) is an ancient art of physical manipulation that includes bone setting, chiropractics, and massage. In most states in the US, Tuina is limited to muscle and joint manipulation for therapeutic purposes.
Nutrition and food healing, are also part of this medical system. Each patient will have different requirements. My own experience is to avoid getting locked into any particular diet regimen, including overly fixating avoidance of certain foods, including what the now popular to avoid sugar, gluten and so forth. One of the difficult aspects of life with cancer is dealing with food. Poor appetite, nausea, depression are only a few reasons for this difficulty. It is important that, regardless of the type of food a cancer patient craves, he or she should be able to eat that food without worry, anxiety or guilt. Having a source or nutrition to help the body build blood, maintain the white blood cell based immune system, and have materials for tissue maintenance and repair, far outweighs, in my opinion, the potential harm that might come from a food that is currently on the no-eat list.
If you are a cancer patient, at any stage of the disease or at any stage of treatment, Chinese medicine is a wonderful supportive option. It can benefit patients greatly by decreasing pain, increasing strength and energy, decreasing chemo and radiotherapy side effects, maintaining proper levels of red and white blood cells, platelets, and so forth. It supports the immune system which helps the body recognize and fight cancer cells.
While the benefits of Chinese medicine are great, while potential side effects are few, it is important to find a Chinese medical practitioner that is properly experienced in treating cancer patients. It is important to screen the practitioner and make sure you feel confident that he or she can competently help you.