How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Help With Cancer Support?

Updated: Feb 4


In recent years, there is a trend of cancer patients turning to TCM as a form of cancer support

A cancer diagnosis for you or your loved one can be a distressing and emotional time for you and your family. This article will explain how to improve the quality of life for the patient during this tumultuous period, by providing cancer support via Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and integrative therapies, along your route to recovery.


In recent years, there is a trend of cancer patients turning to TCM as a form of cancer support. There is also an increasing number of patients who suffer from side effects of chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy, and they are seeking complementary TCM therapies to reduce the side effects and alleviate symptoms such as pain management.



Why TCM?


Many clinical studies have shown that TCM is effective in supporting treatments against breast, gastric and lung cancer. An example from one of the researches shows that when TCM is used as a complementary therapy combined with conventional chemotherapy, patients increased the survival rate, had a better response to chemotherapy and experienced reduced side effects, including vomiting and the decline of red blood cells.


TCM can improve the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy in fighting cancer, guided by therapeutic principles of tonifying qi and producing blood, strengthening the spleen and stomach, nourishing the liver and kidney, and removing heat or inflammation from blood and toxic material from the body.


For advanced cancer patients, elderly patients, or in those for whom radiotherapy and chemotherapy are unsuitable, TCM plays a strong role. Research shows that TCM can stabilize tumor lesions, improve symptoms, enhance the quality of life, and prolong survival time. In view of preventive treatment before disease onset, TCM applied at an early stage can reduce the incidence of cancer. In a research on esophageal cancer, it is found that the incidence rate of precancerous lesions in the TCM treatment group was lower than that of the control group.


The efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in cancer treatment. Source: NCBI

What exactly is cancer?


According to the Singapore Cancer Society, cancer is a term that refers to a group of diseases, all of which are characterised by abnormal cell growth. When the normal regulated process of cell division and growth malfunctions, the cells will grow and divide uncontrollably. As they continue to grow and multiply, they may amass to form tumours.


There are two kinds of tumours; benign and malignant. The former is a tumour that continues to grow and divide in the same place, without spreading to other parts of the body. On the other hand, when the tumour spreads and invades into other parts of the body via metastasis, it is a life-threatening tumour known as malignant tumours.


What causes cancer from a TCM perspective?


1) Weak immunity

  • Qi has a defensive mechanism that protects the body, thus weaken Qi formed from poor digestive function results in weakened immunity

  • Coldness restricts the flow of Qi and blood resulting in stagnation

  • Stress and emotions stagnate Qi flow


2) Poor blood circulation

  • It can result from coldness accumulated in the body. This could be from external environment or frequent ingestion of food of cold nature

  • Weak Qi (energy) unable to encourage blood flow. Hence, many cancer patients tend to feel cold and have cold extremities.

  • Blood is thick and turbid thus stagnated


3) Phlegm Dampness accumulation

  • Weakened digestive function

  • Excessive intake of food of cold nature or oily/greasy

  • Exposure to cold environments that weakens digestive function to form Qi and blood

  • Poor bowel movement results in the accumulation of toxins


4) Exposure to dampness from the environment

  • Environmental toxins

  • Exposure of damp and cold environment


The mechanism of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in cancer treatment. Source: NCBI

How does TCM support cancer recovery?


The treatment of cancer is viewed holistically in TCM, with a systematic approach being taken to treat and improve the condition of the body. The physician customises a treatment suited to the patient, based on the identified root cause(s).


To meet the growing demand of patients seeking TCM treatments during their conventional cancer treatments, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine has partnerships with foreign academic institutions in TCM research focusing on cancer, to transform TCM from an experience-based practice to evidence-based medicines through innovation and differentiation.


How TCM can help cancer patients?



1. Acupuncture

  • Acupuncture utilises very fine needles placed at different parts of the body to help regulate, realign and improve the condition of the body and its organs.

  • Acupuncture treatments are focused on improving the patients’ quality of life.

  • Cancer patients report the below benefits:

  • Strengthened immune system

  • More energy and reduced lethargy

  • Reduced cancer treatment side effects

  • Reduced anxiety


2. Herbal Medication

  • Helps to recuperate the body, replenish the Qi and energy, nourishing the body so that it can fight the cancer cells

  • Some herbal medication are supported by research to help suppress the growth and spread of cancer in the body


3. Electro-Lymphatic Therapy

  • Electro-Lymphatic Therapy is carried out using an FDA-registered device that is effective for pain management and reducing inflammation

  • It improves the function of lymphatic system which is closely linked to ‘San Jiao’ in TCM

  • Cancer patients report the following benefits:

  • Strengthened immunity

  • Reduced pain, aches and inflammation

  • Reduce water retention and lymphedema (especially for cancer patients who have gone through lymph node removals)

  • Better mobility


4. Negative Ion Therapy

  • A medical device used in Japan hospitals that supply high density of negative ions to the body, achieving similar effects of high level of antioxidants

  • Cancer patients report the following benefits:

  • Better energy levels

  • Reduced side effects from conventional treatments

  • Faster post-operation recovery

  • Better sleep quality


Is TCM for every cancer patient?


Yes! TCM Physicians work alongside major hospitals in Singapore like Tan Tock Seng Hospital to provide care to patients with all sorts of conditions, not just cancer.


However, it is important to seek professional consultation from certified Physicians as some patients may be allergic to certain herbs, or certain herbs are not suitable when patients are undergoing chemotherapy. It is important that patients get clarity from their primary care conventional oncologists on any contraindications so the supporting TCM Physicians will be able to match the herbs more effectively.


Article by Physician Leong Weizhen, with contribution from wellness blogger Eatprayflying.com, Beatrice Liu and Physiotherapist-to-be, Chloe Lee 


Place of Practice: Oriental Remedies Group


At Oriental Remedies Group, we have more than 10 certified bi-lingual TCM Physicians. Each of them has been trained in both Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) and China for a minimum of 5-8 years, in both Biomedical Science and TCM before being certified to practice in Singapore. Most of our Senior Physicians work with many cancer patients and are constantly upgrading their knowledge to serve you better.


By combining Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies and expertise with modern integrative therapies such as Electro-Lymphatic Therapy and Negative Ion Therapy, we strive to provide the best care possible in your journey with us.