TCM and Cancer
TCM views cancer as a slowing or static flow of substances in the body. In particular, based on TCM context, these underlying factors such as Qi Stasis, Blood Stasis and Phlegm that allow masses or abnormal cellular growth to develop. These 3 types of stasis can be due to various contributing factors such as emotional disharmony, pathogenic factors and improper diet and lifestyle.
The type of stasis underlying a TCM understanding of cancer depends upon signs and symptoms and the Zang Fu Organs affected. In terms of understanding the role of Stasis of the Fundamental Substances, patients with cancer tend to display the following:
- Qi Stasis: Distending pain, a mass that seems to appear and disappear or change in size, easy frustration, and irritability or other emotional reactions. The tongue is a dusky color, and the pulse is wiry.
- Blood Stasis: Sharp, stabbing pain and masses fixed in origin. The tongue has distended sublingual veins, and the pulse is choppy.
- Phlegm: Soft masses, a subjective sensation of heaviness or sluggishness in the body, and expectoration of a copious amount of phlegm. The tongue has a greasy coating, and the pulse is slippery/wiry.
Since cancer may cause other disruptions in the body's energetics, these signs and symptoms may be subtle and may only give an indication of the TCM cause underlying the disease.
TCM Integrative Oncology
Cancer patients seek all forms of healing throughout their journey of fighting cancer. Studies shown that more than ½ cancer patients use complementary treatment, mainly to improve the quality of life during allopathic treatments. TCM can be integrated into the western treatment as a complementary role, when it is used in combination with the standard cancer treatments e.g. chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Leading cancer institutions have established integrated oncology centers that provide a myriad of therapies to provide the best supportive care for cancer patients. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic are among many highly renowned hospitals, offering cancer patients many complementary therapies to choose from, including acupuncture as part of TCM.
Cancer patients who wish to use TCM along with conventional therapy should speak to their oncologist and their TCM practitioner, so that a team approach to managing symptoms can be implemented. It treats side effects of conventional therapies, helps control pain, and helps keep the immune system strong.
Both herbal medicine and acupuncture are most effective in treating symptoms caused by the conventional oncology treatments (i.e. chemotherapy, radiotherapy). In all cases, a careful differential diagnosis should be undertaken and specific treatments are combined for particular conditions regardless of the overall energetic evaluation.