TCM and Acupuncture as a Way to Help Relieve the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

The second biggest cause of deaths in the United States is cancer. More than a million cancer cases were diagnosed during the year 2000. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year (2014).

The most common form of cancer treatment is chemotherapy. The schedules and doses of chemotherapy drugs are geared towards the killing of rapidly dividing cancer cells and then the removal of these cells from the body before they can destroy the other healthy cells. There are actually three kinds of normal cells that divide rapidly besides cancer cells: bone-marrow cells, hair-producing cells and the cells that comprise the inside lining of the intestinal tract. Chemotherapy drugs do not affect these three kinds of normal cells. Chemotherapy drugs often cause very severe and various side effects including sterility, very weak immune systems, infections, fatigue, blood clotting, dry flaky skin, bone-marrow depression, hair loss, vomiting, and nausea.

Chinese Medicine

Studies reveal that complementary forms of treatment are often sought by almost all patients with cancer after undergoing some kind of radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has evolved into an integrated and powerful form of complementary therapy for conventional medicine’s instruments and drugs to obliterate cancer cells and to suppress the side effects of the drugs and instruments. TCM treats conditions based on a method called pattern differentiation. This means that an acupuncturist or other TCM practitioner is trained to know the model of pathological mechanisms and the organs affected by the pathology (this may include the spleen, heart, lungs and liver) that cause the patterns of symptoms. Skin-reactions, for example, such as skin discoloration, local pain, hair loss, ulceration and dry skin are the result of depletion of body fluids and toxic heat.

By identifying the general and key symptoms of the reactions of the patient’s body to chemotherapy, the acupuncturist/TCM practitioner makes a diagnosis based on the pattern of symptoms manifested, which in the case of chemotherapy, may be dampness or toxic heat and treats the pattern accordingly.

TCM Treatment

To treat a patient showing the side effects of chemotherapy, an acupuncturist/practitioner has at his disposal a number of TCM modalities to choose from. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are the most important treatment tools that can be used to treat side effects associated with chemotherapy. Herbs usually used include jin yin hwa (honeysuckle), bai shao (root of peony), and hwang chi (astralagus). These are strong herbs that help clear toxic heat, nourish blood and tonify chi (vital energy) respectively. The acupuncturist/practitioner usually observes a patient’s pattern differentiation first before prescribing a specific and powerful herbal formula. Applying acupressure or acupuncture on the Perecardium 6 point (Neiguan) is quite effective in relieving the cancer chemotherapy side effects of vomiting and nausea.

Research Support

The Beijing Neurosurgery Institute, the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, the Beijing Ob/Gyn Hospital and the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine did a joint study investigating the normalizing effects of acupuncture on the patients’ immune system response. The patients were subjected to radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The study’s results revealed the strength and ability of acupuncture to normalize and strengthen  the immune systems of the cancer patients. The results also showed the potency of acupuncture in substantially decreasing the side effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. One other study, done in China, used moxibustion on the back acupuncture points to significantly help increase the leukocyte (white blood) count of cancer patients in the middle and late stages of their cancer.

In 1997, the NIH or National Institute of Health hosted a consensus conference to endorse acupuncture. After talking to practitioners and acupuncturists and analyzing studies, the panel was satisfied and sure that acupuncture really helps relieve vomiting and nausea caused by anesthesia and chemotherapy.

 

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