Thursday, August 18, 2016

Overview of Cancer in Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to Western Medicine, cancer is a group of almost 100 different types of diseases marked by uncontrolled growth of cells in the human body and the ability of these cells to migrate from the original site and spread to distant sites. Western doctors typically use a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, diet, and exercise in order to control the extension of cancer cells. When it is not able to be controlled, cancer will cause death.

Over 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States in 2016. It is now the second leading cause of death nationwide, just behind heart disease. Over 500,000 people will die from cancer this coming year in the U.S.

Many patients, especially in more recent years, have turned to alternative medicine for cancer treatment. While ignoring your Oncologist’s advice is not recommended, the wide-range of alternative modalities leaves many options available to look into.

Even some of the most ancient healing systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), have treatment recommendations. Modern practitioners of TCM translate ancient beliefs into treatment plans for “diseases” that Western medicine has adorned with a name. Practitioners of TCM look at the constitution of the body in terms of the meridian systems, emotional state and flow of qi in order to prescribe one or a combination of treatments to a patient. Each patient will have a different treatment plan based off of excess or deficient amounts of qi in their body. These treatments may include diet modification/herbs, body work, qi gong, moxibustion, and cupping.

Diet and Herbs:

TCM practitioners use diet and herbs for many treatment plans, not just those for cancers. Foods, tastes and flavors are directly connected to the five elements and their properties, as well as their effects on the human body. Deficiencies or excess amounts of qi that cause an elemental imbalance will inform the therapist what to prescribe their patients. Be sure to find a therapist who has a long history of working with food and herbs prior to a consultation.


There are many modifications to TCM body work modalities that any good therapist should know in order to make their massage a relaxing and beneficial experience for a client who is undergoing cancer treatment. All massage therapists will modify variables such as pressure and duration of massage. Massage therapists who use TCM in their practice may also include modifications to their massage patterns in order to work specific meridians and acupressure points that may complement a specific type of cancer treatment. While body work is not a primary treatment method for cancer, it is certainly a wonderful complementary care modality.

Qi Gong:

Most people have not ever heard of qi gong, but individuals who are conscious of and sensitive to their energy flow may find this modality very beneficial. Qi Gong, like yoga, uses dynamic postures and focused breathing in order to move energy along specific meridian channels on the body. Visit the National Qigong Association at for more information.


Artemesia Vulgaris, or “Moxa”, is an herb that grows in China, California, and other locations on similar latitudes. Moxa is used regularly by TCM practitioners in order to treat yang deficiencies throughout the body. Moxa can be dried, rolled up into balls, and burned in a room to be diffused, or actually burned on the skin on specific acupressure points. In TCM, moxa warms what is cold. Moxa should NOT be used when the body is experiencing too much heat, which sometimes occurs with cancers. For example, moxa is contraindicated for high blood pressure and burning overactive tumors.


Cups are used for a wide-range of conditions. Most recently, professional athletes around the world have used cups in order to maintain circulation and performance-level muscle tension; however, cupping will usually be contraindicated for cancer treatment. While it does draw out yang heat, the effects on the body’s fragile elimination systems may uphold contraindication.


American Cancer Society

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Online Medical Dictionary

Oriental Healing Arts Center of Alaska

(class notes)

Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements, 2nd Edition

Dianne M. Connelly, PH.D.

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