The treatment of cancer patients in TCM presents new challenges and great opportunities for acupuncturist to understand and develop their skills in this emerging field of Oncology Acupuncture (OA), as well as learning more about research in this filed.
Understanding and deepening the knowledge of Chinese medicine in oncology can also be applied to the treatment of immune system and prevention of disease in general.
OA is an area where Chinese medicine has ample of research, which was carried out over the last several years. Getting acquainted with the research results and protocols can enable TCM practitioners to communicate better with the western medical community and the oncologist helping to bridge east and west.
Recently, there has been major advances in research of OA, leading to many publications of clinical trials with strong evidence to support the use of acupuncture for cancer patients. Recent new developments include the effect of OA on the quality of life at different stages of cancer treatment such as surgery, radiation, as well as relieving side effect of cancer treatment such as pain after surgery; reducing side effect of anti-hormonal treatment breast cancer; hot flashes in breast cancer and prostate cancer; increasing the immune system in cancer patients and more.
Dryness- external and internal
There two type of unusual dryness, which occurs during the treatment of cancer, one is from external causes due to exposure to radiation treatments, while the other is from internal causes, mainly due to the treatment of anti-hormonal (especially anti-estrogen) medicine. This type of treatment is often given over long periods of up to 5-7 years for women diagnosed with breast cancer, in which the cancer cells are sensitive to estrogen.
Radiation is considered toxic heat. Heat, particularly in such concentrations, has a tendency to create dryness. Especially when the radiation is affecting the mucus producing cells such as in the mouth and the digestive system as seen in tradition to head and neck cancers. In TCM we can classify it as heat and dryness in the Yang Ming – Stomach and Large Intestines (St-Li). Also, the Yang Ming channels can be used to treat this condition since they have the capacity to reduce heat, and promote the production of body fluids in mucus membranes such as in the digestive system and the mouth.
Who would believe that LI-2 will deserve such a scientific research?
One of the main points which are used in order to reduce dryness of mouth is Li-2, since it is a water point on a Yang Ming channel. An interesting studyhas measured the effect of this point both by Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) changes and saliva production. This study results are clearly demonstrating that during the needling of this point, there are changes in the brain and at the same time increased production of Saliva. This study confirms what is traditionally known - that this point affects the mouth and salivation. These findings are another unexpected proof to our TCM knowledge.
Activation regions shown by fMRI signals associated with true acupuncture were compared to those from sham acupuncture
Another study of head and neck cancer, which has achieved promising results, showed that most patients in the group treated by acupuncture (86%) had a positive treatment response to xerostomia (dry mouth) symptoms. This study used a preselected group of acupuncture points, including electro-acupuncture on bilateral points (Sp6), (ST36), (LI4), (CV24), the treatment was stimulated twice weekly for a total of 24 sessions given in 12 weeks.
Comment: personally I would have liked to see a more thoughtful point selection including not just obvious Yang Ming points such as ST36 and LI4 in this case a using water points such as Li-2 or St-44. The addition of Sp-6 can be also viewed in the same way, it is an obvious point used to tonify the Yin, which may be needed in case of chronic dryness. Yet perhaps Kid-6 (Tonifying Kidney Yin - a channel which also passes through the neck area) or Lu-5 (the water point and Yin channel of Li) may have been a choice, which reflects a deeper TCM understanding. However the use of CV24 is a good choice.
Another cause of dryness is the use of anti-estrogen hormone treatment (such as Tamoxifen), which causes hot flashes and is actually drying the Chong Mai. One interesting study was carried on breast cancer patients receiving anti-estrogen drug and suffering from hot flashes . The study compered two groups - one receiving an antidepressant drug (venlafaxine) - a common treatment for hot flashes - versus acupuncture. The results had not only shown improvement in the hot flashes, but also significant improvements in mental health. After the treatments ended both the acupuncture and drug group were evaluated. It was interesting to note that the acupuncture group continued maintaining the benefits of less hot flashes, as well as reports of increased sex drive, improvement in energy, clarity of thought, and sense of well-being. The drug group hardly had any long lasting effects. The treatment duration in the study was 12 weeks. All patients were treated using primary acupuncture points: Bladder 23, kidney 3, and spleen 6 for general menopausal symptoms. Secondary points were used as needed according to the TCM diagnosis they included: Du-14, Gb-20, Lu 9, Liv- 3, Du-20, St 36, Ren-6, Pc-7, and Ht-7.
Protection – from side effects and more
LCS101 (Protectival) Scientifically validated TCM herbal formula for cancer patients
In the last decade we have conducted a study in the hospital department of oncology and in four cancer research centers and cancer laboratories, which included a series of researches on one formula. The human study results showed that the Chinese herbal formula LCS101 (Protectival), which was administered to breast cancer patients during chemotherapy, have had a significant clinical benefit preventing from chemotherapy side effect such as: Anemia, leucopenia, fatigue and vomiting.
Reducing chemotherapy side effects of (WBC, RBC) by more than 50%.
More studies on LCS101 (Protectival) demonstrate its multi-faceted effects on the immune system, protection against the side effects of chemotherapy, and at the same time, providing an anti-cancer effect. This multi-compound herbal formula, and its wide effect, is pointing to the essence of Chinese medicine and its holistic approach.
Combining different strategies in TCM both in acupuncture and herbal medicine has had a vast contribution in allowing faster and better healing with fewer side effects for cancer patients.
By fusing oncology & biological science with TCM traditions, we can validate the importance of the TCM paradigm, and moved a step forward in integrating such healing options in cancer care.
First published in ICCM Journal, Spring 2015
This post is also available in: Hebrew