Laboratory studies suggest that Traditional Chinese Medicine increases the effectiveness of the conventional therapies without increasing toxicity. Traditional Chinese Medicine is able to support patients being treated with conventional Western medicine (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery) through four approaches: reducing side effects of chemo and radiation, hormone effects, increasing immunity, prevention of cancer progression and control of cancer symptoms.
- Reducing side effects of chemo and radiation
Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs contain a variety of chemicals that might act to inhibit tumor cell divisions, increase the proportion of immune cells within the tumor, and increase the blood flow through the tumor. As a result, it would reduce the number of tumor cells and minimize many side effects. Some herbs protect normal tissues from radiotherapy, such as Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium thanks to its antioxidative actions and immune enhancement.
- Hormone effects
Phytoestrogens that possess either estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity are found in some botanical supplements like Angelica sinensis, Glycyrrhiza glabra and the various ginsengs. These substances, which act as chemopreventive agents, are used to treat patients with hormone-responsive cancers like breast cancer, prostate cancer and so on.
Ginseng has an anti-proliferative activity. It helps improve the quality of life of patients with breast cancer, and prevents its recurrence, according to a study presented at the American Society of Clịnical Oncology meeting in 2007.
Soybean is proven to be effective as an anti-cancer factor in the laboratory. Some studies suggested that people with a high soy or tofu content in their diet may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
- Increasing immunity
Herbs help enhance the immune system, for example “Fu Zheng” herbs, including ginseng, Ganoderma, Astragalus membranaceus, Angelica sinensis, Cordyceps sinensis, and Fructus Lycii. Some clinical studies have found that immune cells, which attack cancer cells, increase in our body after we take Fu Zheng herbs. In addition, polychacharide extracts, complexes from Chinese medicinal herbs, and mushrooms have a potential role in enhancing natural immunity, thereby improving survival.
- Prevention of cancer progression
In general, a number of chronic viral infections result in cancer. Other risk factors include poor diet, genetic predisposition and smoking. An inadequate response from the immune system to eradicate chronic viral infections and cancer cells is a common problem.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, appropriate nutrition is emphasized in cancer treatment. The usage of green tea and Panax ginseng was shown to reduce effectively the risk of cancer and prevent cancer recurrence. Similarly, isoflavones and phytoestrogens in soy beans appear to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer, as well as cut back on the risk of recurrence. A Traditional Chinese herb combination may reduce the risk of lung cancer in ex-smokers.
The compound containing Sophora tonkinensis, Polygonum bixstorta, Prunella vulgaris, Sonchus brachyotus, Dictamnus dasycarpus and Dioscorea bulbifera lowered the risk of esophageal cancer by 50%, according to some Chinese studies.
- Symptom control
At least five clinical trials have shown that Chinese herbal treatment can decrease the degree of myelo-suppression, reduce stomach side effects and increase appetite. Among them, Ginger root has been shown in many clinical studies to have an antiemetic activity, i.e. it helps alleviate nausea.
Besides that, Chinese herbal therapies such as Ginkgo biloba may mitigate cognitive dysfunction which is caused by receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
In conclusion, traditional Chinese medicine plays an important role in the supportive care of cancer patients. Although evidence for the utility of traditional Chinese medicine is promising, more specific clinical trials should be conducted for the purpose of evaluating the efficacy of integrating traditional Chinese medicine into Western cancer care.
S.M. Sagar and R.K. Wong, MD. Chinese Medicine and Biomodulation in Cancer Patients – Part two. Current Oncology – Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 8 – 30.