Integrative Medicine Blog
Using Chinese Medicine for Cancer Prevention & Treatment
The Chinese medical approach to cancer starts with prevention, but in the event of a cancer diagnosis, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help balance the body and restore healing.
October is breast cancer awareness month and an important focus of this awareness is how to prevent it from occurring in the first place or from recurring after a diagnosis. Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture, herbs, Qigong meditation, body work and nutrition can be used at any stage of cancer treatment—from prevention to early diagnosis, before and after surgery, during conventional treatment, to after those treatments are completed, or alongside your personal journey in however you chose to treat your cancer. Being a two-time breast cancer survivor myself, Chinese medicine was the first thing I turned to and 3 years later continues to be an essential part of my wellness plan.
We do say that the best cure is prevention, so getting regular acupuncture treatments whether weekly, monthly, or seasonally can help prevent the occurrence of many diseases. One of the main guiding principles within Chinese medicine is that this is a holistic system of healthcare aimed to maintain health and prevent illness, not just treat disease. But if disease does set in such as a cancer diagnosis—regular treatments can help strengthen the body to improve immune function, inhibit cancer growth, detoxify, alleviate side effects of conventional treatment, protect the cells and organs and ensure their healthy functioning, and calm the mind and emotions. An acupuncturist can address what imbalances may be present and treat to correct them, as well as help you help yourself to make lasting lifestyle changes.
Another guiding principle of TCM is that diagnosis of disease is based on determining underlying patterns of imbalance, whether it is diagnosing a common cold or cancer. With the common cold the pattern might be a ‘wind-heat’ or ‘wind-cold’ invasion, with breast cancer it may be ‘liver Qi stagnation’ or ‘kidney Qi deficiency.’ Some diseases tend to follow certain patterns, or affect certain organ systems. This is often the case with cancer.
The main patterns and factors contributing to breast cancer according to Chinese medicine are cold, stagnation, and Qi deficiency (this means your organs do not have enough energy to perform their functions optimally.) So in treatment, the goal is to warm the body, break up stagnation, and increase and strengthen overall energy. We can also look at what organs are affected, like if it’s a lung cancer or colon cancer, or in the case of breast cancer we can look at the chest and see what channels (or meridians) pass through the area. Often if a tumor is located along a certain channel, there is likely an association with that organ and these are the liver, stomach, and kidney channels. The function and actions of these organs are understood within the unique theories of Chinese medicine, so this doesn’t mean if your tumor is along the liver channel that there is something wrong with your liver from a western medical perspective.
If you come to an acupuncturist seeking help with prevention or treatment of breast cancer, underlying patterns of disharmony would be identified for you and treated accordingly. Points and herbs are chosen to correct these patterns and restore balance. One point that might be used is CV 17, named ‘Tan Zhong’ which translates to chest center. It is located along the central channel called the conception vessel that travels up the midline of the front of the body. CV 17 is located on the sternum level with the 4th intercostal space (between your 4th and 5th ribs.) This point is referred to as the ‘sea of Qi’ for its ability to move and free stagnant Qi in the chest and by doing so increasing microcirculation in the breasts. This is very important for breast cancer prevention and treatment, so that lumps or masses do not form or grow. This point is an area of focus in some Qigong meditation for its ability to cleanse and purify blood. Applying focus, pressure, or acupuncture here will also help unbind negative emotions like sadness, fear, anger, or worry that can cause contraction and constriction of breathing, Qi and blood.
You can apply pressure here by bringing your hands together as in a prayer position and placing them right in the center of your chest with the thumbs pressing against the sternum. Now take deep breaths into the chest. On the inhale breathe in vitality, joy, courage & relaxation. On the exhale let go of fear, frustration, worry, sadness, or anything else is not serving you. Better yet, go outside and do this!
For a more in-depth discussion of the TCM approach to cancer see my previous blog post: https://stramcenter.com/blog/blog-detail/cancer-the-chinese-medical-framework-view/
A Woman’s Guide to Healing from Breast Cancer by Nan Lu, O.M.D., L.Ac.
Jade Woman Qigong, The Healing Power of Taoist Medicine for Every Woman by Master Liu He