If you couldn’t tell by the sudden appearance of pink everywhere, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And with stats like “1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime,” chances are that you or someone you know has been affected by this disease.
While I wouldn’t recommend trying to treat breast cancer with Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are ways in which TCM can help you prevent it, or manage the side effects that come with many cancer treatments.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about finding balance within your body. Cancer is a dramatic imbalance in the body, and unfortunately treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can cause further imbalance before resolving the issue. Acupuncture is a fantastic resource to help you mitigate the side effects of those imbalances, so you’re at least less miserable going through treatment.
Studies have found that patients who receive acupuncture in addition to traditional western breast cancer treatments have significantly fewer nausea episodes from chemotherapy; less nausea post breast cancer surgery (more effective than Zophran!); a 36% reduction in pain after 2 months, a 31% reduction in post-chemo fatigue, and half as many hot flashes. That’s no small feat!
Here’s a partial list of the ways acupuncture can help you manage the symptoms of breast cancer and its treatment:
- Lessens pain by stimulating the nervous system to release natural painkillers
- Stimulates the immune system, lessening the effects of immune suppression that come with cancer treatments
- Help relieve fatigue
- Control hot flashes
- Help to decrease nausea and vomiting
- Ease dry mouth
- Ease depression
- Increase appetite
- Help with insomnia
- Relieve night sweats
There are also studies to show that acupuncture can help with the chronic side effects of chemotherapy in cancer survivors, increasing their range of motion and decreasing their pain, as well as helping with peripheral neuropathy.
Cupping (using small glass cups as suction devices placed on the skin) plays an important roll in clearing the lymphatic system (which is part of your immune system). The lymphatic system can end up collecting toxins and carcinogens from our environment in the form of polluted air, pesticides, processed foods, and hormones. The toxins can eventually lead to the imbalances that cause cancer. The act of cupping stretches and opens the lymphatic vessels and blood circulation, which helps to clear these toxins.
Studies have found that massage (and treatments like cupping) increase the production of oxytocin (most commonly thought of as a contraction stimulating hormone during child birth, but also important in emotional, cognitive, and social behaviors). This increase in oxytocin has been shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells and remove free radicals, as well as decreasing stress responses which can also contribute to health problems.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has over 400 herbs that have been found to have effects on cancer. These herbs can work through a variety of different mechanisms, such as:
- Inhibiting cancer growth
- Reduction of metastasis and invasion
- Promotion of cancer cell death
- Enhancing the immune system
- Reducing the side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy
Here are the top 10 anticancer herbs:
- Oldenlandia diffusa – Anticancer, antioxidant, immune regulation, antifungal, anti-inflammatory
- Curcuma longa (turmeric) – Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antifungal. Good for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
- Astragalus membranaceus – Immune boosting, antiviral, anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory
- Panax ginseng (ginseng) – Cardiovascular protection, antitumor, antiaging, antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory
- Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) – Diabetes management, cardiovascular improvement, antiaging, anticancer
- Angelica sinensis (dong quai, or female ginseng)– Cardiovascular benefits, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, immunity-enhancing
- Panax notoginseng (Chinese ginseng) – Enhance immunity, antioxidant, antitumor, antiaging
- Scutellaria barbata (barbed skullcap) – antitumor, antivirus, antioxidant, anticancer, antifungal, anti-inflammatory
- Ligusticum Grayi (licorice) – antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti cancer, antibiotic
- Salvia miltiorrhiza (red sage) – antifungal, antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antibacterial
Now, these are not the only herbs that are helpful in preventing cancer and treating the side effects. These aren’t even all the uses of the herbs listed, but you can definitely start to see some anti-cancer trends with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune boosting effects. All of these herbs help your body to restore balance. I am definitely not recommending that you go out and add all of these herbs to your daily regiment, and you should talk to your doctor about any potential side effects or medication interactions before starting any supplements. However, if you’re interested in adding herbs to your treatment plan, I’d love to sit down and figure out which ones in which combinations would be the most beneficial for you!
With how common breast cancer is in women, it’s important that we take all the steps we can to take care of our bides and prevent this deadly disease. And if you’re already dealing with this condition, there are steps we can take with Traditional Chinese Medicine to help augment your cancer treatments and help relieve the side effects of those treatments.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or illness. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to the use of this product if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medications or have a medical condition. Individual results may vary