Cancer is a group of diseases of abnormal cell growth and uncontrollable reproduction, with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. More than 300,000 people are diagnosed as having cancer in the UK every year (NHS Choice 2015). The main treatments for cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as other specialist treatment, but these treatments have many side-effects.

There are evidences that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may be helpful in relieving some symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment. There are also evidences that some Chinese medicinal materials may help with treating cancer, although further researches are needed.

Acupuncture is a useful treatment for symptoms of cancer and side effects of cancer treatments. Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective in controlling pain (Paley et al 2011) and nausea (sickness) and vomiting due to chemotherapy (CINV) (Ezzo et al 2006). Several studies have looked at acupuncture to try to help peripheral neuropathy – numbness, tingling and sensation changes in the hands and feet after chemotherapy treatment, and some studies seem to show positive results.  Looking at hot flushes and sweating, which could be the side effects of cancer treatment of breast, prostate or womb cancers, a study has shown that acupuncture can be an effective long term treatment. (Filshie et al 2005).

It was reported that acupuncture and moxibustion improved the symptoms of the patients who developed lymphoedema after surgery or radiotherapy treatment for cancer (De Valois 2012).

Cancer-related fatigue (tiredness) is one of the major symptoms in cancer and in cancer treatments, particularly when a patient is having chemotherapy, but acupuncture is an effective intervention for managing the symptom of CRF and improving patients’ quality of life. This was the conclusion drawn by professor Molassiotis and his team, who conducted a major study between 2008 and 2012. (Molassiotis et al 2012). It is safe to recommend acupuncture for treatment of cancer-related fatigue.

Acupuncture can also be used for a dry mouth, anxiety and mood changes and sleep problems for cancer patients (Cancer Research Campaign 2015).

Chinese medicine takes a holistic approach to the treatment of cancer and side effects of cancer treatment. It aims to improve the individual’s qualify of life. It emphasises the improvement of the individual’s resistance to cancer and the minimization of side-effects. Many Chinese medicinal materials have been used to treat cancer for thousands of years in China and recent researches have shown that many Chinese herbs have anti-cancer compounds which can be used for cancer treatments. The following are the list of herbs from the Chinese materia medica that are thought to have anti-cancer properties:

Zi Cao, Shan Dou Gen, Chuan Xin Lian, Bai Hua She She Cao, Ban Zhi Lian, Ban Bian Lian, Huang Lian, Tian Hua Fen, Jin Yin Hua, Ku Shen, Xia Ku Cao, Qing Dai, Ban Lan Gen, Da Qing Ye, Yu Xing Cao, Bai Jiang Cao, San Leng, E Zhu, Dan Shen, Hai Zao, Chang Shan, Xing Ren, Sang Bai Pi, Shi Chang Pu, Gua Lou, Da Huang, Fu Ling, Zhu Ling, Yi Yi Ren, Chang Chun Hua, Xi Shu, Shan Ci Gu, Tian Kui Zi, Ya Dan Zi, Ren Shen, Huang Qi, Bai Zhu, Nu Zhen Zi, Shou Wu, Ling Zhi, Bu Gu Zi, Dong Chong Xia Cao

Chinese herbal medicines have been used to reduce the side-effects of cancer treatments. They are effective for cancer-related fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain control, anxiety and emotional changes, hot flushes and sweating.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs can help the treatment of cancer and side effects of cancer treatment by the following ways (In traditional Chinese medicine terminology):

By strengthening the qi and blood of the individual (this is probably equivalent to promoting the immune system, strengthening the digestion system and blood reproduction).

By clearing away the heat, fire and toxin from the body (in modern medical terms, this is probably equivalent to reducing inflammation and dryness).

By clearing away qi blockage and blood stasis (this may be equivalent to improving circulation and blockage in the circulation system and controlling pain) .

By softening the hard lumps and dispersing the knots (this may be equivalent to anti-neoplasm treatment).

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References:

NHS Choices (2015) http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cancer/pages/introduction.aspx (Accessed: 8 November 2015)

Paley C.A., Johnson M.I., Tashani O.A. and Bagnall A.M. (2011) “Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults”. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD007753. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007753.pub2.

Ezzo J., Richardson M.A., Vickers A., Allen C., Dibble S., Issell B.F., Lao L., Pearl M., Ramirez G., Roscoe J.A., Shen J., Shivnan J.C., Streitberger K., Treish I. and Zhang G. (2006) “Acupuncture-point stimulation for chemotherapy-induced nausea or vomiting”. Cochrane Databaseof Systematic Reviews, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD002285. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD002285.pub2

Filshie J., Bolton T., Browne D. and Ashley S. (2005) “Acupuncture and self-acupuncture for long term treatment of vasomotor symptoms in cancer patients– audit and treatment algorithm”. Acupuncture in Medicine, 2005; 23(4):171-180

De Valois B., Young T. and Melsome E. (2012) “Assessing the feasibility of using acupuncture and moxibustion to improve quality of life for cancer survivors with upper body lymphoedema”, European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 16. pp 301-9. doi:10.1016/j.ejon.2011.07.005

Molassiotis A, Bardy J., Finnegan-John J., Mackereth P., Ryder DW., Filshie .J, Ream E. and Richardson A.  (2012) “Acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue in patients with breast cancer: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial”. J Clin Oncol. 20;30(36):4470-6. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.41.6222. Epub 2012 Oct 29.

Cancer Research Campaign (2015) http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/acupuncture (Access 8 November 2015)