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Oriental Medicine for Oncology Support
By: Lori Kelsey, RN-BSN DOM Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)

There are five principles in providing oncology support with Oriental medicine. These principles guide the practitioner in creating a treatment plan that addresses a patient’s constitution, blood stasis, benign masses and malignant tumors, and qi (life force or energy), as well as jing (which underlies the body’s regenerative ability).

Practitioners of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine don’t purport to cure cancer, but instead, use treatment modalities to help alleviate symptoms and complement a patient’s overall cancer treatment plan. For example, acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatment can help with pain and other symptoms or secondary issues, including problems with mood, appetite, sleep, energy, and more.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatment therapies can successfully integrate with comprehensive oncology treatment plans in the following areas:

Pain Management
The efficacy of acupuncture for cancer-related pain depends on the nature of the pain. For example, acupuncture can work effectively for symptoms of dry mouth with painful swallowing, and may help treat post-surgical pain. In addition to the traditional acupuncture points used for patterns of disharmony and root cause, there are over twenty additional points for cancer-specific pain.

Quality of Life
Various forms of Qi Gong have far-reaching benefits to help diminish cancer symptoms, improve mood, appetite and sleep. Qi Gong can also help increase the body’s ability to self-heal, and can help inhibit cancer growth (Chen & Yueng, 2002). Gentle Qi Gong movements are done without risk for injury or exhaustion, making them appropriate for relieving symptoms through most stages of illness. During all stages of illness, this type of therapy can improve quality of life by enabling a patient to continue activities of daily life. It can also provide psycho-emotional support during life-threatening illness (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 2014).

Managing and Reducing Side-Effects during Treatment
Many herbal formulas can tonify Qi, blood, and marrow to help a patient during long-term treatment with chemotherapy. Herbal formulas combined with acupuncture have proven especially effective for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), and other gastrointestinal complaints. Studies have found that acupuncture and Oriental medicine can be as effective as drug therapy for relieving treatment-related depression.

Reducing Side-Effects and Regaining Vitality after Treatment
The side-effects related to chemotherapy and radiation can persist after treatment ends. Common side-effects or complications that can be helped by acupuncture and Oriental medicine include dry mouth, peripheral neuropathy, and cognitive impairments.  It can also be effective for relieving some of the symptoms that persist after Hormone Inhibition Therapy for breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men (Deng, 2013).

Reducing Cancer Risk and Thriving during Remission
In Oriental medicine, it is believed that environmental toxins should be avoided as much as possible. Cancer prevention is generally rooted in the Eight Taoist Principles to Health and Longevity.  These principles are:

  • Primary care & prevention
  • Free-flowing spirituality (choice)
  • Trust (links spirituality and wellness)
  • Rest
  • Revitalization (exercise)
  • Balanced diet
  • Relationships (belonging, love, sex)
  • Self-understanding (outlook)

Sun Bing-yan, a modern Chinese medicine oncologist, stressed the root causes of cancer when he wrote that the Shen (spirit) must be balanced and moving freely, and the Spleen must be healthy (and helping the body to efficiently assimilate nutrients to help maintain physical strength), and the Qi strong and balanced. He also stressed the importance of detoxifying the body to improve digestion and elimination, and to clear phlegm.  

There are many Chinese herbs combined in special formulas to treat different cancers, and your practitioner will choose the specific herbs that will best support your individual treatment and healing. In addition to herbs, there are some supplements that have been proven to significantly decrease the risk of certain cancers. For example, vitamin D3 can decrease the risk for hepatocellular carcinoma in those with hepatitis C.

Learn more about how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can be integrated into your oncology treatment plan! Find an acupuncturist near you!

About the Author: Lori Kelsey, RN-BSN DOM Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM), graduated from Southwest Acupuncture College and has worked in Western healthcare for over 20 years. She owns SpiritSpring Acupuncture & Herbs, and specializes in Integrative Medicine for primary care & prevention.