Integrating Cancer Care with Chinese Medicine

Written by Dr. Mao Shing Ni & Frances Lam, L.Ac.

People throughout the world employ a variety of strategies to cope with the physical, emotional, and spiritual impact of cancer. In recent years, the field of integrative oncology has emerged as a scientific discipline to carefully research and bring together evidence-based complementary/traditional medicine therapies and conventional cancer treatment to address the diverse needs of cancer patients and their families.

Many complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, yoga, and herbal medicine originated from regions outside of North America thousands of years ago and are used extensively in their countries of origin today. For example, in China the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal therapies in cancer patients exceed 80%.

The recorded history of Chinese medicine and its approach to cancer dates back more than 3,000 years. It is mentioned in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, one of the most esteemed and earliest written medical books in China, and possibly in the world. As early as 11th century BC, descriptions of tumors were inscribed on oracle bones and bamboo tablets.

Chinese Medicine’s approach to disease differs from Western medicine in that disease is thought of as an imbalance of the whole person, and that fluctuating environmental and emotional factors affect the manifestation and progression of the disease. The objective of healing is to restore balance using acupuncture, bodywork, herbal and nutritional therapies, as well as mind-body practices such as qigong and meditation.

Other objectives include restoring homeostasis of the body and organ systems, ridding infection, nourishing life force (qi) and blood, eliminating toxins from the body, and increasing circulation. In the case of cancer, Chinese medicine focuses on strengthening the patient’s resistance to disease while eliminating the toxic factor from the body. This approach is called fu zheng qu xie, or simply Fu Zheng Therapy.

Chinese medicine’s importance in the United States as a complementary treatment to conventional oncology has grown over the last 20 years. Since 2006, the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM), within the National Institute of Health (NIH), has hosted regular international conferences with cancer researchers and oncologists from around the world that promote collaboration between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and various institutes in China.

These joint efforts have provided opportunities for scientists and clinicians from both countries to explore the components of Chinese herbal extracts and compounds for their potential activities and applications either alone or in combination with Western medicine with regards to cancer. There has been a tremendous volume of studies undertaken on Chinese medicine and cancer that a search of PubMed (NIH’s repository of published studies) yielded more than 20,000 publications on Chinese medicine and cancer since 1990.

Patients with cancer often use methods such as acupuncture, meditation, herbs, and dietary supplements (which are all components in Fu Zheng Therapy) in addition to their conventional cancer treatment. In the US, major cancer centers have already taken the lead in integrating Chinese and Western medicine for cancer care. For example, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston formed dedicated programs focused on integrating complementary therapies into cancer care. Both Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic offer acupuncture services and Chinese herbal therapy to their patients.

At Tao of Wellness, our team of practitioners have been caring for cancer patients for over 40 years. We provide Fu Zheng Therapy in collaboration with patients’ oncologists to alleviate side effects such as fatigue, nausea, and neuropathy from chemotherapy and radiation while boosting patients’ vitality and immune function. It’s been a successful and satisfying model of service that we hope to educate more patients and providers on. We invite you to tune in to this month’s Healing Hour and hear from patients as they share their cancer journeys.