In China, where they practice Western and Eastern therapies for cancer, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) plays an auxiliary but important role. It is employed to minimize the side effects of conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, assist in pain management and strengthen the immune system. It also aids in dealing with the stress and emotional factors that come with a cancer diagnosis.

In TCM, cancer is viewed first as a deficiency of ‘qi’ (“chi” or life energy) and/or blood. Deficiency of qi can be viewed as a low white blood cell count and a concomitant weak immune system, while deficiency of blood may be seen as a low red blood cell count and related anemia and fatigue. Long-term deficiencies of qi and blood lead to stagnation, and the formation and accumulation of fibrinogen and platelets that can lead to a tumor and the degradation of the body’s normal defenses against external pathogens or internal disease.

Our role as western TCM practitioners is primarily to help mitigate the side effects of conventional therapies such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. We work to boost the immune system and relieve patient stress.

The TCM practitioner has various modalities available to accomplish these goals. Clinical studies by the NIH find that acupuncture causes physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland and the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. Acupuncture can decrease blood pressure, boost immune system activity and cause the body’s natural painkillers, such as endorphins, to alleviate the pain associated with the disease itself and the associated treatments. Natural painkillers can help a patient cut down on medications that may have unwanted side effects. Acupuncture is also helpful for relieving nausea and preventing vomiting, especially in combination with vitamin B6 injections.

Moxibustion, a heating method used for cold in the body, also helps with digestive problems, especially when patients are extremely weak. Cupping, a technique used in eastern traditions and many other cultures, consists of creating a vacuum on the skin by placing a glass cup with heated air inside or by using a small vacuum pump. This suction opens up the pores to help eliminate toxins.

Some of the most important tools in helping cancer patients with their treatments come from Chinese herbal therapy. There are special formulations for different stages of disease, treatments and types of cancer, and for dealing with the various side effects of traditional cancer treatment. Herbs can help the stomach digest food, reduce stress and are used prior to surgery to enhance effects and outcomes. For instance, surgery injures normal tissues, inhibits and diminishes microcirculation and may cause spasms of micro arteries which delay healing and lead to adhesions and keloids. Herbs activate and invigorate the blood to improve microcirculation, which may reduce inflammation and restore connective tissue.

When recommending Chinese herbal therapy, TCM practitioners should work closely with a patient’s oncologists and cancer care team to alleviate negative interactions with other therapies.

As science-based studies have shown, TCM can play a valuable role in minimizing the side effects associated with treating cancer.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist with a Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine. Dr. Sheppard trained in both China and the U.S and recently opened AcQPoint Wellness Center in La Quinta. 760-775-7900

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