Updated: Mar 1
Florence Lim, L.Ac., DAOM, Dipl. O.M.
As you enter the oncology department of a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hospital in China, you see a long line of patients – maybe 20, 30, or more – waiting to see a TCM oncology doctor. When it comes down to his or her turn, the patient sits in front of the doctor and places his or her palm face up on a small cushion on the table so that the doctor can read the patient’s pulse and observe the patient’s physical state. The doctor further examines the patient’s western test results such as MRI scans, CT scans, or blood tests to assess the patient’s overall health such as liver and kidney function, cancer marker levels, and/or whether they may be anemic or neutropenic due to chemotherapy treatments. Subsequently, the doctor writes out a comprehensive Chinese herbal formula aimed at supporting the patient’s overall immune function, improving quality of life, counteracting some of the negative side effects of cancer treatments, and preventing metastasis and recurrence in patients who have previously gone through cancer treatments.
The integration of both eastern and western methods of treatment for cancer patients has been part of China’s medical system for much of its history. In fact, the first mention of cancer treatment in TCM sources dates back to 2000 years ago in The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon and The Classic of Medical Problems. Through the ages, the focus on proper diagnosis and treatment, strengthening the body’s resistance, eliminating potential pathogenic influences (such as environmental triggers, viruses, bacteria), treating both the acute symptoms as well as addressing the root cause of illness have helped strengthen the clinical efficacy of TCM treatments and its continued use in modern times.
Huang Qin Tang Formula (黄芩汤):
Anti-Tumor Effect and Impact on Recovery and Survival of Cancer Patients
Thankfully, in recent years there has been increasing support by the western medical world for the use of acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal treatments for patients undergoing cancer treatment. From both our clinical experience and various studies that have come out, Chinese herbal medicine not only helps to counteract the negative side effects of chemotherapy such as low white blood cell count (neutropenia), nausea, diarrhea, and hot flashes, but it also helps to enhance the anti-tumor effect of certain chemo drugs. One such proof of this is Yale pharmacology professor Yung-Chi Cheng’s groundbreaking cancer research which looks at a botanical drug called YIV-906 and its effects on liver cancer and hepatitis B. YIV-906 is comprised of an 1800 year-old Chinese herbal formula called Huang Qin Tang, which is compromised of four main ingredients: licorice, jujube dates, white peony root, and skullcap root.
After lab testing, Cheng’s team found that this formula had a high inhibitory effect against the side effects of a chemotherapy drug known as CPT-11 (irinotecan), which is often used to treat colorectal, lung, or other cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. These side effects included nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. They then formulated a drug based on this formula and tested it on one thousand mice. The drug came to be known as YIV-906. Not only did it reduce the toxic side effects of CPT-11, but the team found that it also enhanced the drug’s anti-tumor activity. After years of testing the Chinese herbal formula’s effectiveness against a range of cancers including liver, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer in studies involving more than 200 human participants, YIV-906’s positive effects were replicated again and again. Furthermore, the scientists noticed patients treated with Huang Qin Tang based herbal formula experienced a stabilization of the cancer, faster recovery, and longer survival rates.
LCS101 Formula: Impact on Immune Function in Breast Cancer Patients
A TCM formula known as LCS101 has also been studied to assess its impact on immune function in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. LCS101 is comprised of 14 different herbs – Huang Qi, Fu Ling, Bai Zhu, Gou Qi Zi, Nu Zhen Zi, Bai Shao, Cao Shao Yao, Chen Pi, Mai Men Dong, Ji Xue Teng, Bai Hua She She Cao, Xia Ku Cao, Ban Zhi Lian, and Bei Sha Shen. Clinical research has shown that these patients are less likely to report symptoms such as fatigue, pain, and chemo-induced nausea and vomiting. It also significantly reduced the incidence of chemo-related neutropenia, anemia, and leukopenia.
We at TCM Healing Center believe that a comprehensive approach to cancer care that incorporates such things as proper diet and nutrition, lifestyle changes, meditation, massage, acupuncture, and Chinese medicine can significantly improve the quality of life and long-term wellness of patients undergoing cancer care.
While western science has come a long way in finding cures for cancer, its focus is on killing both cancerous and healthy, normal cells, resulting in a deterioration of the patient’s physical state. Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, and other forms of complementary medicine can counteract the cytotoxic effects of chemo and radiation treatments, thus resulting in better patient outcomes and less severe side effects. As Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This holds especially true when it comes to the philosophy and approach we should take as healers, as acupuncturists, and as doctors of Chinese medicine when we must deal with patients undergoing cancer treatments. An integrative approach to medicine that incorporates the best of both East and West is where the future of oncology should lie.