Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have a different view of cancer from Western doctors. According to Dr Swee Yong Peng, CEO of the Primary Care Network at Parkway Shenton, TCM doctors view cancer as a result of an accumulation of toxins in the body.
“These toxins are due to various imbalances in the body,” says Dr Swee, who practises both TCM and Western medicine. “For instance, if a person suffers from stress or other emotional issues, this can cause her qi, or energy flow, to stagnate. Qi is also affected if a person doesn’t exercise or has a poor diet, or if her yin and yang components are not in balance. When there is an imbalance in the body, toxins accumulate and tumours form.”
The yin and yang concept holds that there are opposing but complementary forces in each of us. Some of us may be more yin, some more yang, so the goal is to find the perfect balance between the two.
It is said that TCM can help with cancer prevention by restoring your yin-yang balance. A yang person, for instance, has more heat in the body, and the TCM practitioner can help clear this excess heat with TCM treatments and procedures.
“Some people may be genetically predisposed to cancer. In TCM, this means that they were born more yin or yang. It may therefore be more difficult to restore a balance since the disharmony is structural, something that cannot really be changed or reversed,” says Dr Swee. So what your TCM practitioner can do is help you manage this disharmony using TCM treatments.
Just like in Western medicine, TCM practitioners also believe that certain substances and habits, such as smoking, are cancer causing, so your TCM physician will advise you to replace these habits with healthier ones.
HOW TCM IS USED TO TREAT CANCER
Dr Swee stresses the importance for cancer sufferers to get their cancer seen to by a Western doctor before exploring TCM options. “Only after the tumour has been removed, whether by surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, should you see a TCM practitioner to restore the balance in your body,” he explains.
Your TCM practitioner will then prescribe herbs to detoxify the body and may recommend acupuncture or other therapies to minimise discomfort. Dr Swee says that certain herbs have been shown, in laboratory settings, to inhibit cancer growth, and one or a combination of them may be prescribed to eliminate any additional waste and destroy remaining micrometastases in the body.
According to Dr Swee, the treatment is customised according to the type of cancer. So if a patient has breast cancer, which is sex hormone-related, she will not be given herbs that contain phyto-oestrogens, like Chinese yam and angelica.
TCM VERSUS WESTERN MEDICINE
Not every type of cancer is suited for TCM therapy. If your cancer can be treated using Western medicine, Dr Swee recommends completing the course of treatment before seeking TCM therapy. Some cancers like leukaemia are best treated with chemotherapy, and TCM might interfere with the success of the treatment. “Chemotherapy works almost 90 per cent of the time with leukaemia, so I wouldn’t advise my patients to go for TCM therapy while they are undergoing chemotherapy, as it might compromise their chances of success.”
But Dr Swee says that for late-stage cancers that have not responded well to Western medical treatment, TCM may be able to add a few more years to the patient’s life and make them feel more comfortable.
As for “in-between” cases, where it is not certain if Western medical treatment will work, Dr Swee says it’s good to be open to TCM treatment. “As long as the TCM therapy does not interact negatively with your Western treatment or reduce the efficacy of your medication, it should be fine. In such cases, both the TCM practitioner and Western doctor will have to monitor the patient’s situation very closely. With TCM, we don’t just look at cures, we also consider a patient’s comfort.”
This article was originally published in Simply Her Every Woman's Cancer Prevention Guide.