Cancer Care with Integrative Oncology
For anyone the diagnosis of cancer is both shocking and frightening. The disease has become so widespread that we all know someone who has been touched by it. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in America, killing more than one person every minute of the day. There are many factors that contribute to the cause of cancer, including environmental toxins, radiation exposure, microbial infections, and genetics. Contrary to popular belief, genetics play a role in only 20-30% of all cancer conditions. Even cancerous genetic expressions can be modified through nutrition, lifestyle and mindfulness according to the science of epigenetics.
In Chinese Medicine the care and prevention of cancer is called Fu Zheng. It is a specialized program of integrative oncology that supports the body’s own cancer-fighting immunity, and emphasizes the reduction of toxicity. Fu Zheng harmonizes, enhances and protects the healthy structure and function of the organs. The spleen system—the Chinese equivalent to the body’s metabolism—is strengthened to improve digestion, absorption of nutrients, and immune functions. By fortifying energy and blood, the immune system is enhanced, the endocrine system is balanced, and bone marrow is protected and nourished.
By definition cancer is a malignancy of cells that possess several characteristics. All tumor cells arise from a single cell where the mechanism that regulates its growth is disrupted. They literally become immortal, instead of programmed death like normal cells. They grow more rapidly than normal cells and have the ability to invade and to metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body. By the time cancer is detectable as a 0.5 cm mass, it represents approximately one billion cells. Cancer can occur in every organ of the body as well as in the blood. The top 10 most prevalent cancers in the US include cancer of the breast, thyroid, colon/rectum, lung, lymph nodes (Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), pancreas, bladder, endometrium, skin, kidney, and prostate. Breast cancer is the leading cancer with 235,000 new cases expected in 2014.
Diagnosis of cancer often depends on a combination of diagnostic procedures that include biopsy results of the tumor tissue, MRI/CT scans, lab tests, and bone marrow biopsy. Once diagnosis is confirmed, a staging from 1 through 4 is done to determine the severity and prognosis, and help guide the treatment of the condition. Stage 1 is an isolated tumor without any lymph or sentinel node involvement—meaning no proliferation is detected. Stage 2 is a larger tumor size with aggressive growth, possibly involving the lymph or sentinel nodes. Stage 3 is further spread of the tumor from its original site to tissues nearby. Stage 4 is metastasis to other distant organs from the primary tumor site where it began. Genetic testing of the cancerous tissue can provide valuable data and help in the determination and personalization of treatment.
After recovering from the initial shock of discovering cancer, the patient is guided by their oncologist in choosing therapies that may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone-blocking, or biologic therapies. After deciding the best treatment protocol, there are the side effects from the anti-cancer therapies to consider. The success of one’s therapy often hinges on how well the patient copes with the side effects, which can include fatigue, hair loss, low appetite, nausea, anemia, low white blood cells, weight loss, poor concentration and memory, neuropathy, diarrhea, mouth sores, dry mouth, insomnia, muscle and joint pain and depression. If the side effects are unbearable, a patient may be forced to interrupt or change the treatment protocol, thereby lessening the treatment efficacy. Integrative oncology seeks to bring Eastern and Western medicines together to achieve the best results for a patient’s cancer condition while enhancing quality of life. Here are the Fu Zheng, or complementary therapies, offered at Tao of Wellness.
Acupuncture has been used successfully for many years both in China and the US as part of an integrative oncology protocol to speed recovery from surgery and manage side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Research has shown that acupuncture can increase the production of the immune system’s natural killer cells (NK cells) which specifically target cancer cells, reduce nausea and gastric distress from chemotherapy, and improve neuropathy and radiation-induced dry mouth syndrome. Additionally, studies at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York have shown that acupuncture is effective for lymphedema—the swelling of parts of the body associated with lymph gland removal. Most importantly, acupuncture supports a patient’s quality of life by increasing energy and a sense of wellbeing. Learn more about acupuncture.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Like acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine has had a distinct role in integrative oncology as adjunctive support during anti-cancer treatment. Herbs are used to provide relief for symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, nerve pain, numbness, low energy, muscle aches, and joint pain. Common herbs used include ginger for nausea, hawthorn berry for low appetite, corydalis for nerve pain, astragalus for low energy, and turmeric for muscle and joint pains. Chinese herbal medicine focuses on treating both the whole person and the specific condition. Therefore, specific herbs are prescribed for various purposes resulting in a customized formulation that’s different from patient to patient even if the cancer diagnosis is the same. In other words, if an herbal formula is put together to relieve a chemo drug’s side effects, the formula will be experienced differently from patient to patient and is dependent on the type of chemo drugs used. No two individuals’ formulas are exactly alike and our expert practitioners will prescribe a personalized herbal combination after assessment of each patient. Learn more about Chinese herbal medicine.
Chinese medicine recognized long ago that what you eat matters for both maintaining wellness and healing from illness. Our nutritional therapy consists of two parts: a customized diet that is therapeutic to your condition, and the use of high quality nutritional supplements to support healthy function and activate specific healing actions. All of our practitioners are trained and certified in applied clinical nutrition. For cancer patients our practitioners will recommend a diet rich in anti-cancer foods with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage topping the list. We also encourage a plant-based diet, which has been shown in studies to reduce occurrence and reoccurrence of cancer.
We consider clinical use of nutritional supplements to be critical for cancer patients. For example, as you age the thymus gland that produces lymphocytes—your body’s defensive troops—shrinks and declines in this important immune function, therefore predisposing you to cancer cells that proliferate unchecked. Similarly, studies show that a majority of cancer patients have low levels of vitamin D. We provide our patients with a customized nutritional supplement program that supports healthy thymus, immune and lymphatic functions as well as vitamin D supplementation. Learn more about nutritional therapy.
InfiniChi Energy Therapy
Our body is not merely flesh and bones but rather it is a dynamic being governed by a communications network that is based in energy. Energy exists in different forms including electric, magnetic, heat, light, sound and others. All these energies move through the body, from the brain to the fingers and toes and back ensuring that homeostasis, which is balanced and optimum functioning, is maintained. When energy flow is disrupted the communication within the body either changes or ceases, and consequently illnesses ensue. Our certified practitioners of InfiniChi Energy Healing—Chinese medical energy therapy in the Tao of Wellness tradition—can help you unblock and restore energy flow so that you can activate your innate healing potential. Learn more about InfiniChi energy healing.
Mind Body Exercise and Meditation
Chinese medicine perceives body, mind and spirit as inseparable and therefore addresses the whole person through different healing modalities. Mind-body exercises like qi gong and tai chi are meditations utilizing both movement and stillness to help integrate all aspects of your being as one. Many studies in China have shown numerous benefits of qi gong for cancer patients. Our certified practitioners will coach you one-on-one in practices that are specific for supporting healthy immune function that you can incorporate into your daily wellness routine. Learn more about tai chi and qi gong.
Cleansing and Detoxification
While chemotherapy and radiation treatment are life-savers in combating cancer, the resulting toxic accumulation in the body leads to a decline in immune, endocrine and neurological functions. Chemo and radiation toxins remain in tissues for months and sometimes years afterwards, and unless cleared out of the body, they continue to create discomfort for patients. Some of the lingering symptoms after the conclusion of cancer treatments may include poor memory, focus, and concentration—called “chemo brain.” Others include depression, anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, weight gain, frequent colds or flus, and slow healing. As well, there can be neuropathies including numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands and feet.
We advocate a program of cleansing and detoxification to eliminate residual toxins from the body after cancer treatments. The principle of detoxification is fundamental to Chinese medicine and our program utilizes an integrative East-West approach consisting of skin brushing, cupping, lymphatic tuina bodywork, joint rotations, acupuncture, far-infrared heat therapy, Chinese herbal medicine, nutritional therapies including organic vegetable juice and broth, InfiniChi energy healing, mind body exercise, and emotional blockage release. All of the healing techniques were designed to activate your liver, kidney, lungs, lymphatic system and skin to eliminate toxins from your body. Learn more about our cleansing and detoxification protocol.
Prevention of Recurrence
The great Chinese physician of antiquity, the Yellow Emperor, noted that it is far easier to prevent a disease than is to cure a condition after it occurs. To take care of your life, you need to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. Chinese Medicine provides life-affirming treatments and guidance for achieving the goal of wellness that creates health and inner peace. For cancer survivors, preventing recurrence is not an option but a way of life. Our practitioners work with you combining the time-tested wisdom of Chinese medicine with the latest scientific findings to create a health maintenance and lifestyle program that seeks to lower the risks of recurrence.
At Tao of Wellness, we have been taking care of cancer patients by working closely with oncologists for 30 years. Our licensed practitioners specialize in minimizing side effects and improving quality of life in patients receiving anti-cancer therapies. We employ all the treatment modalities listed above and these are customized to support the specific needs of each individual patient and their immune system to more effectively fight against cancer. Moreover, Chinese medicine views each patient as a whole person, integrating the mind, body and spirit with the use of its various therapies. The success of our Integrative Oncology Program has resulted in countless cooperative efforts with oncologists in the Southern California area and beyond.
We know that having cancer is very hard, but we encourage patients to view cancer as an opportunity that provides the impetus for making changes in one’s life that would not have happened otherwise—changes which lead to increased meaning, happiness and fulfillment in peoples’ lives. Our role as healers is to help guide our patients to the ultimate healing of their lives. Suggest to your friend or family member diagnosed with cancer to consider what acupuncture and Chinese medicine can do for them during the crucial treatment period and afterwards. We invite them to call us and speak to any one of our licensed practitioners to discuss their situation. We are here for you and ready to help.
A Patient’s Journey through Cancer & Recovery
Excerpted from Secrets of Self Healing by Dr. Mao Shing Ni, Avery/Penguin Group, New York 2008.
Joy came to my office one overcast winter day. Her face was pale and her demeanor hesitant. Clutching a peacoat close to her body, she was trembling slightly. I asked her if she needed anything before we began our consultation. She politely declined but then asked for a cup of hot tea. She said that she was referred to me by a friend of hers who had breast cancer two years earlier, and who was helped by my treatments while going through her anti-cancer therapies.
Joy was diagnosed one month prior with breast cancer. In her mid-forties, she wasn’t ready for this devastating news. She tried to be strong, and she consulted several well-known oncologists, all of whom I’ve worked with. One oncologist told her that she needed a lumpectomy followed by eight weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of five-times-per-week radiation. And since her breast cancer was estrogen-receptor positive, the doctor recommended that she take Tamoxifen, an estrogen-blocker, for five years following her treatments. Another oncologist advised her to get a radical mastectomy. And since she only had one positive lymph node out of twelve, she would only need six chemotherapy treatments and no radiation treatments. A third oncologist thought that since her one lymph node was barely positive, she only needed the six week radiation treatment and didn’t need the chemotherapy. Each doctor wanted her to take Tamoxifen for periods of three to five years. Some also suggested that she undergo genetic testing to see if she possessed the breast cancer gene, and if she tested positive, to consider double mastectomy even though her cancer was found only in one breast.
Joy was frightened and confused. She wanted to make the right decision for her kids, for her husband, for her parents, and for herself. She wanted to do everything she could to increase her chance of survival, but she was reluctant to cause unnecessary and potentially permanent damage to her health. She was scared to make the wrong decision, and she wanted to know my opinion. I explained to her that since each of the oncologists were reputable, they likely made their recommendations based on their clinical experience. The more aggressive the treatment method, the more likely any remaining cancer cells will be permanently destroyed—a sort of insurance policy against recurrence. However, the more aggressive the therapy, the more injury there will be to the body.
The Role of Chinese Medicine in Cancer Care
Joy then wanted to know what I could to combat the side effects of the treatments and minimize the damage. I told her that over most of my career in Chinese medicine, I had worked with oncologists to help patients improve their quality of life during and after anti-cancer treatments. I would use acupuncture to reduce the nausea, vomiting, and other gastric distress that often accompanies chemotherapy. Acupuncture also helps to increase energy, and improve mood, sleep, and appetite. I also advise patients on a diet plan to support the body during chemotherapy and an anti-cancer diet plan to prevent recurrence.
Moreover, since research done in China and Japan has confirmed the immune-stimulating properties of certain Chinese herbs, I would also formulate a synergistically-combined herbal medicine prescription to help support her immune functions and the production of red and white blood cells by the bone marrow. This herbal formula would also protect nerve endings, lessen fatigue, and improve concentration and memory. I explained that some herbs used in China have well-documented anti-cancer properties but weren’t allowed to be used here without FDA approval. Finally I would teach her, or arrange for her to learn meditation and qigong exercises. Tens of thousands of cancer patients in China experience an increased sense of well-being and better control of their health and destiny with mind-body meditation and exercise. Chinese studies show that qi gong and tai chi stimulate the activities of lymphocytes, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and other immune cells that play a role in fighting cancer.
Cancer will Change Your Life – for the Better
As we’ve seen, Chinese medicine doesn’t consider the body to be separate from the mind. Physical ailments may have their origin in the mind, and mental-emotional disorders may stem from physical imbalances. I asked Joy where she thought her cancer came from. At first she wasn’t sure what I meant. She repeated what her oncologists had told her, which was essentially “unknown.” I asked again, emphasizing that I wanted to know what she herself thought. Her eyes welled up with tears and then came an outpouring of anger and resentment toward people in her life and her feeling of being helpless and trapped and unable to do anything to change it. I let her talk for as long as she felt comfortable sharing.
Afterwards, I explained to her that according to Chinese medicine, the seed of cancer is planted by exposure to negativity, be it physical toxins, a virus, or emotional stress such as the suppression of negative emotions like anger and sadness, which block energy flow, and in turn, force the energy to be expressed through the growth of abnormal cells and tissues. I told her about a visualization meditation and a ritual that would help release her pent up feelings, and I suggested a psychotherapist who specializes in patients with cancer. Additionally, I talked to Joy about cancer being a wake up call for her to change her life so that she would no longer be unhappy—cancer is her spirit screaming that she is unhappy. But cancer can be empowering. It can provide the courage and the impetus to make changes that people usually don’t make out of fear or apathy—like resolving a long-standing conflict with someone or pursuing a dream that has become crushed under the weight of an unfulfilling life.
At the end of her visit, Joy was noticeably more relaxed. Her face had warmed to a subtle red glow. Since all three oncologists were highly reputable and qualified, I encouraged her to work with whom she could best communicate and connect. And when she decided on one, I advised her to trust the doctor implicitly and to embrace his or her protocol 100 percent. She said she would make a final decision within the next week and return to see me the following week. As a parting thought, I told her before she left that getting cancer would change her life forever, for the better.
Supportive Strategies during Chemotherapy and Radiation
During our second visit, I mapped out a treatment course for her based on the protocol she’d be undergoing. She decided to have only the cancerous lump removed, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, saving her breast. Her treatment plan with me included weekly acupuncture treatments before her surgery to help her immune system, after surgery to speed her recovery, and during chemotherapy and radiation. I gave her a diet plan to support her vital functions during the anti-cancer treatments, and I put together a customized formulation of herbs based on a number of criteria including her age, constitution, the type of chemotherapy agent, and the length of her anti-cancer treatments.
Over the next nine months, Joy came in for her acupuncture and herbal treatments weekly—sometimes on the day after her chemotherapy, which made her throw up and lose her appetite. But consistently she reported that the acupuncture and the herbal therapy immediately made her feel much better. Often, she would get off the acupuncture treatment table with a sense of well being, a better mood, and more energy. Joy continued to work throughout her nine-month ordeal even though we discussed the virtue of having some down time to rest and re-evaluate her life. She felt strongly that by continuing to work, she would have a reason to get up every day. Also, her white blood cells remained within normal range most of the time, and she only had to receive one shot of Neupogen during the entire treatment, which is given to increase white blood cell production in the bone marrow due to the immune-suppressing side effects of the chemo agents.
Joy’s energy stayed strong through both chemotherapy and radiation. She was quite disciplined and followed her diet, acupuncture, and herbal therapies as prescribed. She did have a couple of emotional breakdowns in my office, but I encouraged her to reevaluate her life and to rediscover her life’s purpose and what was important to her. I told her that all disease is simply symptoms of life out of balance. She began to see a psychotherapist and to attend cancer support groups both at the local Wellness Community and at her church.
Cancer Empowers Positive Changes
About eight months after her diagnosis, Joy came into my office and declared that she had decided to quit her job. She had come to the realization that her boss was emotionally abusive and that by having stayed at her job for many years, she was not nurturing herself. Since the breast is an organ that provides nourishment for a baby, she reasoned, the problem with her breast was symbolic of the fact that she had stopped nurturing herself a long time ago. This realization empowered her to make a change that she was afraid to make for many years. Likewise, she began to make changes at home, carving out time for pottery and other interests, which she couldn’t find time for before. Her kids became more responsible and engaged in their individual and family chores. Joy became more intimate with her husband, demanding and spending more quality time together with him and the family. This is not to say there weren’t painful adjustments for Joy and others in her life. But the changes were well worth it, as evidenced by the increased happiness and fulfillment in her life.
After her second chemotherapy, Joy came in with her head shaved and covered by a wig. That was a very sad day for her. She cried and was afraid that her hair would never come back. I assured her that her hair would come back, and I gave her an herbal hair tonic—a formula passed down through my family’s medical lineage—to massage into her scalp daily. To her amazement, by the fifth month, her hair began to grow back. One year after her diagnosis and three months after finishing her anti-cancer treatments, she stopped wearing her wig. Strangely, her hair was thicker and curlier than it had been before. I had never seen her so happy as that day, when she heard from her oncologist that she was free of cancer.
Around the middle of her treatment course, Joy received a big blow to her confidence. Her sister-in-law back East, who was also battling breast cancer, died of complications. Joy sat in my treatment room that day, depressed and deflated, feeling that her efforts would be in vain and that she would lose the battle as well. I asked her to focus on herself one day at a time, and to think positively and believe in her innate powers. She had not been diligent in her meditation and qigong practices up to this point. I gently reminded her about the power of gaining self-control through these ancient practices. I then gave her an acupuncture treatment specifically to uplift her mood and energy. She left that day feeling more peaceful and positive in her outlook. The acupuncture helped regulate serotonin levels in her brain and release endorphins that elevated her mood instantly.
Dealing with Instant Menopause and the Life Thereafter
After the nine-month long anti-cancer treatment course, Joy went on Tamoxifen, which caused severe menopausal symptoms. The constant hot flashes, night sweats, frequent headaches, sleeplessness, and moodiness were sometimes unbearable. Joy had experienced artificial menopause earlier during her chemotherapy. Her periods abruptly stopped and the symptoms of menopause had begun. With acupuncture and herbal treatments, I managed to restore her periods again. However, with Tamoxifen, which inhibited estrogen in Joy’s body, menopause was now in a full rage. Joy continued to come in for acupuncture and herbal treatments twice monthly, and she kept up her dietary and qigong practices for relief of her menopausal symptoms and prevention of breast cancer recurrence.
It has been seven years since Joy was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She is cancer-free. She has started her own pottery business. Her kids are in college and she has become closer with her husband. Her relationships with others are more meaningful and she doesn’t rush around like she used to do. She takes time to “smell the roses” and for her own self nurturance. When I spoke to her last she said to me, “I didn’t believe it when you first told me that my life would change for the better with cancer. But now, I see what you mean. Getting cancer was truly a blessing in disguise for my life.” Joy is more happy and fulfilled today, after surviving cancer, because she chose to approach it in a positive way. She used everything available to her to combat her disease. She was the beneficiary of a carefully implemented union of East and West, ancient and modern.
Joy’s story is a powerful example of Chinese medicine working with Western medicine to battle a devastating disease. But the potential of integrative medicine goes beyond cancer care. Every day at the California Tao of Wellness clinics in Santa Monica, Newport Beach, and Pasadena, our acupuncturists work with orthopedists on sports injury and pain management, with rheumatologists on arthritis and autoimmune diseases, with gynecologists on menstrual disorders and menopause, with reproductive endocrinologists on male and female infertility, with pulmonologists and immunologists on asthma, allergy, and viral infections, with neurologists on Parkinson’s disease and stroke complications, with endocrinologists on diabetes and thyroid disorders, with cardiologists on cardiac rehabilitation and hypertension, with gastroenterologists on gastric reflux disorder and irritable bowel syndrome, with mental health professionals on depression and anxiety disorders—with many kinds of doctors on many different health conditions.
The key to successful collaboration between Eastern and Western medicine is patient-centered focus—working together and doing what each medical tradition does best to serve the health and well-being of the patient. I see a model in which we first use the diagnostic technologies of Western medicine to determine the disease and the cause. Then, as the first line of treatment, we use the non-invasive, side effect-free approaches of natural medicine like acupuncture, herbal and nutritional therapies, mind-body exercise, and bodywork that are offered by Chinese medicine. Finally, we bring in drugs and surgery and other biotechnological treatments as the situation calls for them. I am happy to see the positive trend of an increasing number of integrative medicine centers and clinics being established, many with close ties to medical schools and teaching hospitals like Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, and the Mayo Clinic. To me, this confirms the emergence of a new medical paradigm of patient-centered and wellness-promoting care.
Abstracts of Select Studies
Acupuncture Eases Radiation-Induced “Dry Mouth” Syndrome
The traditional Chinese medical technique of acupuncture may safely help patients whose radiation treatments cause extreme xerostomia, or dry mouth. The symptoms of xerostomia include difficulty in speaking, eating and swallowing, infections of mouth tissues, altered taste sensation, tooth decay and malnutrition.
“The quality of life in patients with radiation induced xerostomia is impaired profoundly,” says Mark Chambers, D.M.D., a professor in the Department of Dental Oncology at the University of Texas. “Conventional treatments have been less than optimal, providing short-term response at best.”
Xerostomia develops after the salivary glands are exposed to therapeutic radiation that renders them unable to produce enough saliva. Saliva substitutes like lozenges and chewing gum bring only temporary relief, and the commonly prescribed medication, pilocarpine, has short-lived benefits and bothersome side effects.
In a pilot study conducted at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center that was reported in the Head and Neck journal, patients with xerostomia were given acupuncture treatments. After four weeks of treatments twice a week, statistically significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life were found. Patients acknowledged change for the better in mouth and tongue discomfort, speaking, eating and sleeping difficulties, and the need for oral comfort aids.
According to Dr. Chambers, “The positive results are encouraging.” Further research, including whether acupuncture can prevent—not just treat—xerostomia is planned.
Natural Healthcare for Cancer Patients
Tao of Wellness was established in 1976 as a resource to supplement cancer care. We strive to support you in mind and body, and invite you to make an appointment for your health and wellbeing. It would be our pleasure to serve you.