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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  Body  /  Integrative Cancer Medicine Systems  /  Traditional Chinese Medicine for Cancer Patients

Traditional Chinese Medicine for Cancer Patients

By Jeannine Walston

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine incorporates a combination of health care practices originating from China such as acupuncture, diet, herbal therapy, meditation, physical exercise, and massage to restore health by unblocking qi (energy) and correcting the balance of yin and yang within the person.

What is Chinese Medicine’s perspective on cancer?

“Cancer in Chinese Medicine is seen as a local manifestation of an underlying systemic disease occurring within the structure and function of the body… Chinese Medicine focuses on whole-body treatment, addressing the far-reaching effects of cancer which the localized treatment in Western Medicine can underestimate.”
-Traditional and Modern Chinese Medicine chapter in Integrative Oncology

The Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective about cancer treatments is different compared to the Western medical model. The goal of successful Chinese Medicine is not to completely eliminate cancer. Instead, the focus is to allow the patient to survive and maintain quality of life while coexisting with a stabilized and chronic manageable disease when malignancy cannot be eradicated. Chinese Medicine approaches are designed to strengthen the body’s resistance to eliminate factors favoring tumor growth.

“The immune status of a patient is the most important factor in determining the success or failure of cancer treatment. A weakened or dysfunctional immune system is a major predisposing factor to the initial occurrence of cancer. An escalating cancer load can further suppress immunity, which favors tumor spread. The three major Western Medicine treatments—surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—can all impact immunity, increasing the possibility of recurrence and metastasis after initial treatment. The major role of Chinese Medicine in the comprehensive treatment plan is to maintain immune function so that the benefits of Western Medicine treatments can be fully realized.”
-Traditional and Modern Chinese Medicine chapter in Integrative Oncology

What are the potential health benefits of Chinese Medicine to cancer patients?

In China, cancer treatments and conventional cancer care and Chinese Medicine have been offered together for decades by doctors in medical settings. Chinese Medicine approaches include the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine developed and offered for thousands of years. The combination of Western Medicine targeting the diagnosis with cancer treatments and Chinese Medicine targeting the systemic environment yields better efficacy than either approach used alone with the following health benefits1.

  • Mitigates the cancer side effects and enhances the therapeutic effects of cancer treatments and especially chemotherapy and radiation
  • Aids in preparation for and recovery from surgery
  • Supports shrinking and stabilizing tumors
  • Improves quality of life
  • Improves cancer survival

Studies suggest that Chinese herbs suppress cancer cells, promote cancer cell death through apoptosis, and block blood vessel formation through antiangiogenesis associated with cancer development and growth, and work against metastasis.

What are Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine combination approaches for cancer and some of their health benefits?

Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine combination approaches for cancer offer some of the following health benefits indicated through research studies1.


  • Tissue removed during surgery is used for pathological and immunological examinations, as well as medication sensitivity testing to provide important information about the disease status and effective therapies.
  • Herbs given before surgery reduce the risk of the procedure, enhance post surgical recovery, improve immunity, and reduce development of cancer recurrence and cancer metastasis.


  • Herbs given with radiation enhance therapeutic effects, reduce side effects, restore general health, and prevent recurrence and cancer metastasis.


  • Herbs given with chemotherapy reduce side effects, enhance therapeutic effects, improve quality of life, and long-term survival with less cancer recurrence and cancer metastasis.

Michael Broffman LAc and Michael McCulloch, LAc, MPH, PhD of the Pine Street Clinic in San Anselmo, California published a study in 2008 showing Chinese medical chrono-therapy influencing their 3-week that matches chemotherapy cycles supporting cancer patients.

Part 1: begins the day of chemotherapy infusion and continues through Day 3

  • potentiate chemotherapy effective
  • enhanced systemic drug delivery by improving circulation and reducing muscle tension

Part 2: days 4 and 11

  • help cleanse the system of toxic (but no longer therapeutically active) drug metabolites
  • help cleanse the lymphatic system

Part 3: days 12 through the day of next chemotherapy infusion

  • rebuild the immune system
  • prepare the liver, kidneys and bone marrow for the next round of chemotherapy

A more recent study in their clinic showed that Pan-Asian medicine plus vitamins in a similar schedule provided a substantial, statistically significant survival advantage in stages IIIA, IIIB, and IV lung cancer patients2.

Many studies have been published about Chinese Medicine for cancer patients.

Cancer patients looking for a TCM provider must know that variability depends in part on the training of each provider.

What is the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.

For More Information

  • Integrative Oncology by Donald Abrams, MD and Andy Weil, MD
  • Acupuncture
1. Integrative Oncology by Donald Abrams, MD and Andy Weil, MD
2. McCulloch M, Broffman M, van der Laan M, Hubbard A, Kushi L, Kramer A, Gao J, Colford JM Jr. Lung cancer survival with herbal medicine and vitamins in a whole-systems approach: ten-year follow-up data analyzed with marginal structural models and propensity score methods. Integr Cancer Ther. 2011 Sep;10(3):260-79. doi: 10.1177/1534735411406439. Epub 2011 Aug 8. PubMed PMID: 21824893.