Friday, October 29, 2010

The Safe and Efficacious Use of Chinese Herbs for Radiotherapy Patients (Part II)

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Life Cycle Health Center
The Safe and Efficacious Use of Chinese Herbs for Radiotherapy Patients (Part II)

Dear Doctors, Nurses, Caregivers, Patients and Friends:

In part I  Alex Berks, licensed acupuncturist and Clinical Director of Oncology for Life Cycle Health Center discussed the ways in which Chinese herbs can be used to treat some of the more troubling side effects of radiotherapy. In Part II we'll look at how Chinese herbs have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy.

A tumor's sensitivity to radiation is partly dependent on blood supply and oxygenation of the tissues. Herbs can improve both.  It has been reported that tumors have a ratio of anoxic cells that have poor radiation sensitivity and that radiotherapy may reach only about 1/3 of cells in a low oxygenic state. Low tumor infiltration by radiation is considered one of the factors causing tumor relapse.  

In Chinese medicine, herbs are generally prescribed in formulas, with modifications based upon the individual's unique presentation. In tailoring herbal formulas to the patient it is said that in Chinese medicine "the patient is treated". This contrasts with biomedicine's focus on cellular pathology, which leads to an approach by which "the disease is treated." Curiously, as biomedicine advances, it is resembling Chinese medicine more and more in providing specific treatments that are individualized to the unique presentation and characteristics of patients' tumors.

Research conducted on single herbs, though not representative of how Chinese herbs are most beneficially and clinically applied, illustrates the efficacy and principles of more complex herbal formulas.  An example of this is a study on a Liguistrazine extract of the common Chinese herb Chuan xiong (Radix Liguistici Wallichi). (See link at top, right.) This herb is known in the Chinese pharmocopeia as a blood activator.  It has anti-platelet, anticoagulant and blood vessel dilating properties.  It has also been researched for its ability to increase blood perfusion in the brain.  

Results of an animal study with this herb showed that rats responded to the herbal extract with increased microcirculation in caliber, flow speed, flow status and capillary count.  It is not hard to see that a formula with liguistici could improve the microcirculation of peri-tumor tissue and the tumor body, increase blood perfusion in the tumor body, improve cell's anoxic state and elevate the sensitivity of tumor tissue to radiotherapy.

The studies cited at right demonstrate the value of Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in conjuction with radiotherapy (RT) to improve survival rates, lessen the impact of depletion of white blood cells, and improve a patient's ability to finish the full course of radiotherapy treatment. These findings imply that Chinese herbal medicine could enhance the radiosensitivity of tumors.   

In summary, Chinese herbal medicine can be combined efficaciously and safely to enhance radiotherapy's efficacy, improve and prevent side effects of treatment, as well as preserve long term vitality and survival.  

To achieve maximum benefit, patients should commence herbal treatment 1 week before starting radiotherapy and continue for at least 6 months after treatment. 

Please consult with a trained Chinese Medicine practitioner who is knowledgeable in the integrative support of cancer recovery, such as our team at Life Cycle Health Center.
In good health,
Alex Berks, L.Ac., Clinical Director, Oncology and
Ellen Rudolph, Executive Director,
Life Cycle Health Center

Research, Sources, and Viewpoints: Chinese Herbs to Enhance Radiotherapy

1. A 3-part study, "Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of Breast Cancer" by Isaac Cohen, LAc, OMD, Mary Tagliaferri, MD, LAc & Debu Tripathy, MD includes herbs that are commonly used in radiation such as Chuan Xiong  Read the article >>

2. Another excellent resource is: "Integrating Conventional and Chinese Medicine in Cancer Care: A Clinical Guide"

 (Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2007) by Tai Lahans, MTCM, M.Ed., L.Ac., a Chinese medicine cancer specialist with over 20 years of experience, practicing in SeattleRead excepts>> scroll to page 119 for information on Chinese herbs and radiotherapy.

Book excerpt: "The purpose of XRT is to kill local and regional cancer cells mainly by making cell-damaging free radicals. Antioxidants, and by extension Chinese herbs that clear heat, are thought to possibly inhibit radiation from having its full effect. The scientific data shows that, counterintuitively, antioxidants, and by extension Chinese herbal formulas that clear heat and nourish yin, actually improve the efficacy of both chemotherapy and XRT. There is no current evidence that herbal medicines will decrease the effect of XRT. ...The vast evidence from research regarding herbal medicine and antioxidant therapies during radiation show that especially blood-regulating herbs like dan shen enhance the effectiveness of radiation."

3. "Breast Cancer and Botanical Medicine", a June 2008 article by Steven Gomberg, L.Ac., CCN, RH (AHG) and Brandon Horn, PhD, JD, L.Ac. provides a context and clinically relevant information on the use of herbs in the treatment of berast cancer. Read the article >>

Article excerpt: "...given the wealth of historical information on the safety and efficacy of various herbs (some of them having been used for thousands of years), an herbal regimen could be considered as an additional and potentially effective tool in the treatment of breast cancer." "By utilizing herbs that have both historical data and modern research demonstrating potential mechanisms for efficacy, it is possible to maximize the chances of favorable outcomes while minimizing discomfort associated with conventional therapies."  "...a lack of data on the combined effects of herbs and drugs should not necessarily be a hindrance to their use. The same prudent monitoring that allows for widespread use of untested pharmaceutical combinations can enable us to successfully apply the combined use of herbs and pharmaceuticals. With proper monitoring, herbs can be a substantial asset both in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer." 

The information in this newsletter is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with your doctor.