Eastern treatment methods in improving cancer-induced symptoms in cancer patients

As an integrative therapy for people living with cancer, studies have shown great benefits of acupuncture to maintain the body’s homeostasis and reduce side-effects caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Not only that, acupuncture and herbal therapy aid in the reduction of physical and psychological stress from cancer.

Medical research shows that acupuncture works by stimulating nerves. This releases some of our own natural morphine-like substances such as endorphins and serotonin in the spinal cord and brain, which relieves pain and promote the feeling of wellbeing. In addition to its well-known effectiveness at reducing many pain syndromes, reducing insomnia and anxiety and moderating digestive complaints, extensive research illustrates the importance of acupuncture in the holistic approach to cancer management.

Anxiety and Depression

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the psychological impact on the patient and family is tremendous. Feelings of depression, anxiety and fear are normal to life-changing experiences that lie ahead. Poor circulation caused by chemotherapy can be another factor to trigger depression, anxiety and insomnia, indicated as the patient having a feeble pulse, lacks energy and no desire to move. Various herbal medicines are used for depression and anxiety, supporting many patients and the families who battle cancer.
Commonly used Herbal formula: Xiao Xiong Tang, Zhishi Zhizi Tang and Chaihu Guizhi Tang.

Acupuncture points: Ht 7, PC6

Nausea/ Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment and often occur together. In chemotherapy, it has been noted that there are areas in the esophagus, stomach, and intestines that are triggered and cause the patient to feel nauseous and vomit. Other risk factors include vomiting spells, constipation, and fluid imbalance (dehydration or bloating). Acupuncture and herbal treatment are currently one of the most effective treatment methods to relieve nausea and vomiting without side-effects.

Commonly used herbal formulas: Banxia XiXin Tang and Xiao BanXia Tang

Acupuncture points: ST 36, Ren 12, PC 6

Cold syndrome

In fact, many cancer patients suffer from a cold syndrome due to poor circulation. There are those who suffer exceptionally cold hands and feet or in local parts of the body that cause numbing pain. However, western medicine does not consider this ‘cold’ as a disorder. Thus, even if the patient complains of the numbing, cold pain, there are no clear treatment options available. The patient is often depressed because the poor circulation prevents even temperature distribution and fluid within the body. As a sequela of chemotherapy, other types of
cold syndromes include muscle weakness, decreased heart function, poor blood circulation due to vascular disease, excessive consumption of cold food, etc.

Commonly used Herbs: GuiZhi (cinnamon bark), Pao FuZi and Wu Zhu Yu.

Stomatitis, Glossitis, thirst, dry mouth

During Chemotherapy and radiation, painful sores and inflammation can develop in the mouth, including on the tongue, gums, back of the throat and the lips. Stomatitis occurs because the rapidly growing cells in the mucosal lining of the mouth and throat are very sensitive to the chemotherapy and radiation. Stomatitis and glossitis are treated for various causes such as anticancer drugs, radiotherapy, vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, viral or fungal infections, and often links to a dry mouth. BanXia XiXin Tang, HuangLian Bai Du Tang and Wen Qing Yin are commonly used, and dry mouth posterior to Chemo can be relieved by taking MaiMenDong Tang.

Post Varicella-zoster virus infection neuralgia during chemotherapy

Frequently accompanied by decreased immunity, cancer patients are suffering from herpes zoster that appears as a stripe of painful, burning blisters on one side of the body, typically on the torso, neck, or face. In the acute phase, it is treated with an antiviral agent, but when rash and blisters disappear, there is a case of ‘postherpetic neuralgia’ that lasts for a long time. Acupuncture and herbal treatments have proven a significant effect on reducing pain and boosting immunity to alleviate the symptoms at a rapid rate.

Commonly used herbal formulas: Gegen Tang, Mahung Fuzi Xixin Tang and Xiao ChaiHu Tang.

Acupuncture points: GB 41, SJ 3.

Hiccups

Hiccups are caused by nerve compression due to cancer, sequelae of surgery, and electrolyte metabolic abnormalities. There are cases of side effects of anticancer drugs and corticosteroids given for nausea control, such as Decadron (Dexamethasone), but the cause is unknown in many cases. Chronic, non-stop hiccups consume heaps of energy out of the patient. BaiShao GanCao Tang and Xiao BanXia Tang are effective for chronic hiccups.

Acupuncture points: PC 6 and SP 4.

Peripheral neuropathy caused by anticancer drugs

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a progressive and enduring condition that characterize as burning, numbness, or shooting pains, usually in the fingers and toes. Most CIPN is difficult to treat once it occurs, and it is more effective to focus on prevention than treatment. In addition to chemotherapy, there is a clinical report that administration of Niu Che Shen Qi Wan results in less peripheral nerve impairment and allow long-term administration of anticancer drugs. If the patient developed symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, acupuncture treatment is expected to have a greater effect.

Side effects of breast cancer hormone therapy

After the surgery or radiation therapy, breast cancer patients are treated with hormone therapy that suppresses the action of female hormones for five years when the estrogen receptor (a follicular hormone) is determined to be positive. In such cases, the suppression of estrogen receptors leads to symptoms similar to menopausal symptoms and can be severe. Sudden facial flushing, which the patient suddenly feels hot and sweats profusely several times a day, abdominal palpitation, anxiety, depression and arthralgia appear. In general, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is sometimes prescribed for menopausal disorders, but it is forbidden to breast cancer patients. In the treatment of Eastern Medicine, the herb ChaiHu, a Chinese herb that improves the blood circulation, is used numerously with other herbs to effectively benefit circulation. The mechanism of how herbal medicines work on the side effects of breast cancer is yet to be discovered, but herbal medicine is expected to contain estrogen-like substances that act only on normal cells without affecting the estrogen receptor in breast cancer cells.

Reference: The miracle of Eastern Cancer Treatment, Author: Hoshino Etsuo