Cancer treatment support and post-cancer recovery with acupuncture

Over twenty years ago when I worked at the Chinese medicine hospital in Beijing, patients would undergo acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment after their cancer surgery or during chemotherapy. It helped with the effectiveness of the their treatment and made the recovery faster.

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Recently I have seen a woman who had breast cancer and underwent surgery. For 8 weeks her wound wouldn’t heal, and because of this her doctor couldn’t start chemotherapy treatment. When she came to see me, I checked her with our traditional diagnostic methods and found out that her Liver and Stomach meridians were weak. This was affecting the circulation flow to the breast and was preventing her from healing properly. So I gave her acupuncture and after two sessions her wound started to heal.

In this article I am going to share my knowledge with you about how acupuncture can support your cancer treatment and I will give you some lifestyle and dietary recommendations. Additionally, I will give you some information about the causes of cancer according to Traditional Chinese medicine and different body constitutions.

1. What is the cause of cancer according to Traditional Chinese medicine?

In ancient times, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners considered that different pathogenic factors (Phlegm, Heat, Blood Stasis, Qi Stagnation, Food Stagnation and/or Cold) could cause stagnation and toxins (i.e. fibroids, tumors, cysts, lumps, rashes) to accumulate in our body (in organs or meridians).

Stagnation can occur in different degrees, the most severe types may result in cancer (in Chinese it is called Zheng Jie).

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2. Which types of body constitutions are prone to cancer?

According to my clinical experience and Traditional Chinese medicine principles the most common constitution types are as follows:

i) Liver Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis
These individuals are prone to cancers such as breast, uterus, ovarian, liver, pancreas, and stomach cancer. They tend to experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • anxiety and depression
  • insomnia
  • vivid dreams
  • headaches/migraines, stiff neck and shoulders
  • tightness in chest, palpitations and sighing
  • abnormal sweats
  • pre-menstrual tension, breast fullness before the period and period pain with clots
  • discomfort or pain in the rib cage area and hips
  • joint stiffness and pain
  • bloating and sluggish bowel movements

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • gentle exercise outdoors such as walking, slow running, tai chi, yoga, meditation or swimming especially in green environments is very important
  • I also suggest listening to soft, relaxing and happy music
  • use green, yellow or blue colours to dress or decorate your home
  • try to avoid stress as much as possible and talk to someone if you have emotional issues
  • be socially active with your friends and family regularly

Dietary recommendations:

  • eat more foods such as celery, leafy green vegetables, lemon, orange, coriander, green tea, peppermint tea, banana, sweet potatoes, Chinese white radish and carrots
  • avoid eating or drinking anything coming out of the fridge (wait around 20 minutes before consuming). Avoid drinking alcohol and coffee especially when you feel very emotional

ii) Accumulation of Heat-Toxins and Food in the Large intestine and Stomach
These individuals are prone to cancers such as stomach, bowel, pancreas and eosophageal cancer. They tend to experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • bloating especially after meals
  • constipation or sluggish bowel movements with strong odor, blood in faeces, passing wind with unpleasant odour and/or haemorrhoids
  • bad breath, heartburn, excessive hunger and/or thirst
  • red face
  • insomnia
  • excessive sweating
  • feeling of hot body

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • avoid living or doing activities in hot environments
  • exercise in cool conditions and/or in water
  • ensure that you have a regular bowel motion every day
  • use green, blue or white colours to dress or decorate your home
  • massage with your thumb from the knee to the ankle along the exterior side of the shinbone for 5 minutes for each leg 3 times a week applying medium pressure

Dietary recommendations:

  • avoid eating hot and spicy foods such a ginger and chilly, garlic, onion, chives, mandarine, chestnuts, nuts, curry, lamb and venison
  • avoid eating dinner or a big meal before going to bed, allow at least 3 hours
  • eat more often cooling foods such as watermelon, orange, lemon, green tea, peppermint tea, pear, plum, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, bitter gourd, mung beans, chrysanthemum tea, cucumber, tomato, leafy green vegetables, and celery

iii) Accumulation of Heat-toxins and/or Phlegm in the Lungs
These individuals are prone to cancers such as lung, tracheal, skin, nasal and sinus cancer. They tend to experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • dry cough, shortness of breath, prolonged chronic cough, cough with yellow phlegm
  • tightness in the chest
  • dry and wrinkled skin
  • dry nose, blocked nose, nose bleeding, nasal discharge with yellow mucous
  • constipation
  • skin rashes
  • low immunity

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • avoid living or doing activities in hot and dry environments
  • live preferably close to water
  • choose slow and gentle exercises for a duration not longer than 30 minutes (swimming, walking, paced bike riding, taiji, meditation, yoga) and avoid sweating too much
  • always keep hydrated and drink enough water after exercising
  • self massage of internal side of arm (from shoulder to thumb) by using the palm of your hand with medium pressure (5 minutes twice a week for each arm)
  • use green, blue or pale yellow and black colours to dress or decorate your home
  • avoid smoking!!!

Dietary recommendations:

  • avoid eating hot and spicy foods such as chili, onion, ginger, garlic, lamb, venison, shellfish (especially if you have dry and itchy skin)
  • eat cooling foods such as peppermint tea, eggs, fish, celery, spinach, honey, carrots, chinese cabbage, mug beans, duck, sweet potatoes, cucumber, eggplant, pear, white mushrooms, watermelon, leafy green vegetables, orange, lemon, tomato (last three not suitable for people who have acid reflux)
  • mung bean or veggie soup is suggested especially in the summer months

iv) Weakness of the Kidneys leading to Toxins & Stagnation
Traditional Chinese medicine considers that a weakness in circulation will indirectly cause stagnation in certain organs and meridians. Individuals who are affected by this type are prone to cancers such as bone, brain, testicular, prostate and bladder cancer. They tend to experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • feeling of thirst (especially at night)
  • tinnitus, deafness
  • headaches
  • insomnia and vivid dreams
  • lower back pain
  • sudden loss of vision
  • poor memory
  • lack of energy
  • frequent urination (night and day) with blood
  • stiffness and cracking of the joints
  • heel pain

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • live preferably close to water
  • choose slow and gentle exercises (swimming, walking, paced bike riding, taiji, meditation, yoga)
  • always keep hydrated and drink enough water after exercising
  • protect your lower back/sacrum area and keep them warm
  • self massage of internal side of the lower leg (from knee to ankle) by using your thumb with using medium pressure (5 minutes twice a week for each leg)
  • use green, blue or black colours to dress or decorate your home

Dietary recommendations:

  • eat more foods such as fish, prawns, chinese cabbage, walnuts, black beans, lamb, Goji berries, black sesame, sweet potatoes, sea cucumber, black mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, scallops

3. How does acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine support cancer treatment?

  • Acupuncture can help to clear the remaining stagnation/toxins in your meridians and internal organs after the cancer has been surgically removed.
  • Acupuncture can help repair the circulation in the meridians and organs in the area where the cancer was surgically removed.
  • Acupuncture can help you to relieve side effects of chemotherapy treatment.
  • Acupuncture can strengthen your energy (Qi and Blood) to build up your immune system and help your recovery from the cancer treatment.

Please note: Chinese medicine practice in Australia does not treat cancer. We can work cooperatively with your cancer oncologist or medical specialist if acupuncture or Chinese medicine treatment is not contraindicated during your cancer treatment.

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4. When is the best time to start acupuncture treatment?

  • One or two weeks after surgery is a good time to start with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine treatment.
  • I suggest to see your Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner one week before your operation to get checked with our traditional diagnosis methods and to schedule a treatment plan after your surgery.

5. Six important suggestions to remember during your cancer treatment

  • Maintain your energy (Qi and Blood) through a healthy diet by eating also Chinese red dates, Goji berries, boiled eggs, chicken / beef soup, seaweed, sticky rice.
  • Avoid infections after surgery by doing things such as avoid sweating, keep your body clean and make sure you pass the bowels regularly, avoid eating hot and spicy foods, greasy foods and shellfish.
  • Eat more cleansing and detox foods such as celery, carrots, leafy green vegetables, Chinese white radish, lemon, spinach, sweet potatoes.
  • Regulate your lifestyle by avoiding too much physical strain and getting enough rest/sleep.
  • Stay positive. Entertain yourself with enjoyable things such as listening to music, watching funny programs, gathering with good friends or family.
  • Keep away from sick people and regularly open your window and let circulate fresh air in your home.

If you pay attention to the small things, it will make a big difference!

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