By DaiHan Zhou
Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, 510405
Translated by Eran Even
Originally published in the International Journal of Integrative Oncology, Volume 3 No. 1, 2009
Cancer comprises more than 100 kinds of diseases, seriously endangers human health and can affect almost every aspect of the human body.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a long history of identifying and treating cancer. As early as the Shang dynasty (1600 BC-1046 BC), there were records of “tumor diseases” written in oracles. The Classic of Mountains and Rivers, a book compiled in the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC), records diseases related to tumors, such as malignant boils, goiters, carbuncles, dysphagia, etc. In a Jin Dynasty calligraphy work, composed in 7 A.D. there is mention of the surgical removal of tumors. In the Book of Wei Ji and Prescriptions of Renzhai Zhizhi, both composed in the Song dynasty (960-1279), we see for the first time the Chinese character for cancer. There are numerous records of experiences in describing and treating tumors recorded in ancient TCM books, including abdominal masses,dysphagia and various other tumors.
Due to the limits of science and technology at that time, most of those records were usually quite literal in describing localized symptoms of cancer or tumors outside of the body, for example:
‘hard as a rock’, ‘ulcers unable to heal’ and even infecting the internal organs.
It wasn’t until modern times that TCM oncology developed an independent clinical discipline.
On the basis of his own experience and from a long clinical practice, Prof. Zhou emphasizes that the pathogenesis of cancer from the TCM oncology perspective, is as follows: “Cancer exists in or issues forth from the internal organs, and this toxicity harbors deep in the body”. Cancer existing or issuing from the internal organs means that, afflictions to the internal organs manifest with external localized changes. Toxicity harboring deep in the body simply specifies that these external manifestations are the result of internal changes.
Malignant tumors are a form of chronic disease, characterized by deficiency as well as excess. During long-term treatment, there may be a stage of so-called ‘survival with tumor’, if the pathogenic factor (cancer) cannot conquer the Vital Qi. During this stage, the focus of TCM treatment is based on pattern identification with the intent of relieving symptoms, improving the quality of life and prolonging survival
time. These are the characteristics and benefits of TCM treatment in cancer.
With the interpretation of tumor genomics and a profound understanding of their pathological changes, in 2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) began to define malignant tumors as a manageable disease, resulting in a gradual acceptance by the general public of tumors simply being a form of chronic disease.
Certain chronic non-contagious diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are characterized as so-called “survival with disease” conditions which to some extent is a similar concept to ‘survival with tumors’ in TCM oncology.
Modern medicine used to take ‘survival without tumors’ as the primary objective, which would often result in so-called ‘clinical over-treatment’, and even to the point where chemotherapy would not cease until the patient died. Nowadays, as most patients diagnosed with advanced cancer are unable to be cured, the treatment focus has changed, with the aim being the improvement of symptoms and extension of survival time and not only on tumor response. This shift of strategy in the treatment of advanced cancer is in fact, consistent with the concept of ‘survival with tumors’.
The TCM approach to the treatment of tumors is a form of holistic therapy based on pattern identification and disease differentiation and is a method of whole body, individualized treatment.
The use of Chinese herbal medicine can not only improve symptoms and control tumors, but can also reduce the side effects from conventional therapies, radiation and chemotherapy, when used in combination. In addition, Chinese herbal medicine can be used to prolong survival rates by reducing the chance of relapse and metastasis. Due to these above factors, TCM should be utilized in the early stages of cancer, and used throughout the entire course of treatment, and not just as a last resort for advanced cancer patients.
Popularizing the concept of, ‘survival with tumors’ and giving up the, ‘survival without tumor’ ideology is useful in avoiding overtreatment. Increasing the role of traditional Chinese medicine in a multi-disciplinary setting, will contribute to increasing the therapeutic efficacy of cancer treatments, and assist patients with advanced cancer in improving quality of life and extending survival rates, specifically, ‘survival with tumors’.
This is the Chinese method of treating cancer, which is characteristic of
traditional Chinese medicine.