Sunday, May 03, 2009

Chinese Herbs for Cancer

Alex Writes: This article is a good overview of the TCM approach to cancer treatment.

Chinese herbalists have been medicating patients with tumors for over two

thousand years. 1 In stark contrast to Western oncology concepts that undergo

constant revision, Chinese medical ideas about tumor pathogenesis and herbal

responses have remained largely the same over the centuries.2 Still, though,

Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) approaches hold strong attraction for human

oncology patients and people whose animals have cancer.3 TCM practitioners

shun the image of “waging war on cancer” and instead embrace the more

peaceful and organic view of cancer as a journey, regarding the patient not as a

battlefield but as a garden to be nurtured.4 5 6

The enormous draw of Chinese medicine and other traditional medicine practices

led the World Health Organization to consider ways to best study the

effectiveness and safe implementation of CAM methods in clinical practice. In

response, they formulated the Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005.7 In the

same year, the White House Commission published a Complementary and

Alternative Medicine Policy.8 Both organizations urged researchers to

investigate the claims and practices of long-held belief systems and empirically

derived treatments. The National Cancer Institute now recognizes that

following the leads laid by longstanding tradition will generate higher yields than

searching for cancer-fighting botanicals de novo.9 Even the Chinese Society of

Traditional Veterinary Science in Taiwan and the Asian Society of Traditional

Veterinary Science have sounded calls for more research and education in

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) and, specifically, in herbal


The assortment of Chinese herbal treatments being promoted for animal patients

with cancer is growing. Testimonials asserting reductions in tumor size in dogs

who received Chinese herbs further stoke enthusiasm and hopes of finding an

alternative cure.11 12 13 However, rather than basing the herbal prescription on

tumor type or biopsy results, herbs are matched to a patient’s disease “pattern”,

which sorts patients into groups according a system based on visible signs on

the body, the specifics of which are unique to TCM.14

TCM holds that tumors and cancer arise from emotional stress, overwork, poor

nutrition, invasion of pathogens, and poor circulation.15 16 Of these, impaired

circulation ranks as perhaps the most strongly linked etiologic factors leading to

cancer and metastasis.17 18 From a Chinese medicine perspective, the poor

circulation associated with the “blood stasis” pattern will not only deprive tissue of

vital oxygen, absorbed nutrients, and immune surveillance, and it also leads to

the buildup of metabolic end-products in the tissues. Modern oncology resonates

with this perspective at least in part, acknowledging that the microcirculation

within tumors can be abnormal and contain areas of sluggish perfusion.

Furthermore, some researchers have added anticoagulants to chemotherapy

agents in order to lengthen survival and prevent blood-borne metastasis.19