By Susan Tretakis – Cancer plays no favorites; it does not discriminate among its victims. Cancer stakes its claim on anyone of any age at any time. We know more about cancer today than ever before; and yet, the disease continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide. According to recent reports by the World Health Organization, cancer deaths are projected to rise to over 11 million by the year 2030.
We all know someone, be it ourselves, a relative, a friend, a colleague or a neighbor who is either currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Each of us know of a survivor as well as someone who has lost the battle.
I would even go as far to suggest that we all know someone currently undergoing conventional treatment for cancer, such as drugs, surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. We know them; we ache for them.
Science has taught us that cancer can start in any place in a body, beginning when cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. Some cancers grow and spread quickly while others grow slowly. Different types of cancers respond to treatment in different ways. We know that cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body. Currently, the World Health Organization has identified over 100 different types of cancer and each is classified by the type of cell that is first affected.
“Cancer harms the body when altered cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissues known as tumors. Tumors can grow and interfere with the digestive, nervous and circulatory system, and they can release hormones that alter body function.”
While conventional treatment for cancer aims at curing the disease or prolonging life while improving a patient’s quality of life, many acknowledge that cancer patients suffer from both the disease itself as well as serious side effects. In fact, there are some who believe “the cure can kill you.”
Enter Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that our bodies are always working to maintain balance for optimum health. Practitioners of TCM believe there is no separation between the mind and body and look at the interaction between the mind, body and environment. The human body is viewed holistically, as an organic whole in which the organs, tissues and other parts have distinct functions but are all interdependent. According to TCM, health and disease relate to balance or an imbalance in the body’s functions. TCM treatment aims to cure problems by restoring the balance of the body’s energies.
“From TCM perspective, cancer is a systemic disease and the uncontrolled growth of tumor mass is only part of the whole sophisticated manifestations. Cancer patients also have certain body dysfunctions and even meridian disorders, and show different TCM syndromes. TCM believes a weakened body anti-disease capabilities (vital Qi) is the basis of carcinogenesis, which makes individuals susceptible to different carcinogenic factors, such as environment and diet factors. In addition to extrinsic carcinogenic factors, congenital deficiencies, emotional stress and lifestyle also play a role in carcinogenesis.
Body and carcinogenic factor interaction result in internal disharmony, and leading to accumulation of pathological products, such as blood-stasis, phlegm and toxicity. Qi-stagnation and Blood-stasis, phlegm retention and toxicity accumulation are the general pathological characteristics of all cancers.”
A number of cancer centers in the United States are incorporating acupuncture into their cancer care recognizing that treating cancer from several directions is best for the patient. Acupuncturists work in collaboration with patients and other physicians to offer complementary treatments to support oncology care. In 1997, the National Institute of Health issued a statement endorsing acupuncture for several health conditions; as recently as 2018, more data identified that acupuncture has reduced the nausea, vomiting and fatigue that are often associated with chemotherapy and/or radiation in numerous case studies.
Studies on pain control show that acupuncture reduces the pain associated with cancer as well as from surgery. Regular acupuncture treatments have reduced the amount of pain medication needed, and as a result, prevent some of the negative side effects of these medications. Acupuncture also improves circulation which leads to the regeneration of nerves and improves the healing of scar tissue. Many patients who undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments suffer from digestive issues, sleep disorders and anxiety. Again, documentation shows that acupuncture can help relieve these symptoms, encouraging a faster, more complete recovery.
It’s important to remember that Acupuncture, as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, seeks to restore balance by adhering to Chinese meridian theory which states that “there are twelve major meridians and eight minor meridians that follow a specific course throughout the body. Along these meridians are 360 points that an acupuncturist examines for signs of blockage. Qi, the vital life force, flows within these meridians and controls the body’s functions. When Qi is disrupted, it results in pain and/or disease. The goal of acupuncture is to regulate the energy flow, relieving disease symptoms.”
Acupuncture, along with other modalities such as acupressure, Tai chi (exercise), dietary therapy, Chinese herbal remedies and meditation are all part of TCM’s support for cancer patients. Again, the goal is to bring the individual’s body back to health by reinforcing the mind-body connection. In short, Traditional Chinese Medicine helps create an overall sense of improved well-being and this well-being allows for complete healing.
So – if we know what cancer is – if we know how to treat it – the question remains: can we prevent it?
Conventional medicine stresses various screenings for cancer, believing if caught early, cancer is more easily cured. There are identified cancer-causing irritants and research is ongoing. There is however, a personal responsibility that needs to be identified. To this day, it still stuns me that there are those who continue to smoke cigarettes in spite of what we know about smoking and lung cancer. The on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought new information to light about linkages between environmental issues and cancer. There is much written about other possible agricultural and environmental links to cancer, as well as possible genetic markers within a family. For many of us, much of this is mostly out of our individual control, thereby making a cancer diagnosis akin to that of a stray bullet which may or may not hit you.
It is the fact that a diagnosis of cancer is so random that bothers me whenever I discuss cancer with a survivor or caretaker. I accept that there are things that happen and diagnoses made that are out of my control. I do not want to live my life waiting for that stray bullet. Perhaps that’s another reason why I embrace TCM. For me, TCM is empowering, making me feel less like a potential victim.
Traditional Chinese Medicine believes the best cure for anything is prevention.
TCM teaches us that our mind and body are impacted every day by the choices we make. If, indeed, our bodies act as hosts for possible cancer cells, the need to make wise choices is that much more important – and that much more our personal responsibility. Prevention becomes even more essential if there is a genetic link or when environmental changes occur.
Just as we make time for regular mammograms and colonoscopies, just as we schedule quarterly dental cleanings, we need to flip our inner switch to the preventative benefit of Traditional Chinese Medicine and schedule the appointments that strengthen our immune systems. Regular acupuncture treatments – be they weekly, monthly or seasonally – can help prevent the occurrence of many diseases. Your Acupuncturist can provide you with Chinese herbs prescribed specifically for you as well as provide on-going nutritional support.
We need to act on these suggestions. TCM reminds us that self-care is no longer simply about vanity but more about survival. We need to find the time to care for ourselves – to both protect and nourish our entire mind/body connection.
Learn more about Chinese herbs for cancer care and more on acupuncture and cancer support. The Acupuncturists serve the communities of Margate, Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Tamarac, Parkland, Deerfield Beach, and West Boca. They offer free consultations daily.