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Home > Newsletters > January 2008 > Chinese Medicine and Cancer Care - Page 2

Chinese Medicine and Cancer Care - Page 2

By Efrem Korngold, LAc, OMD and Harriet Beinfield, LAc

As discussed, the circulation of qi and blood can be impeded by physical or psychological disturbances. Just as thermal cold constricts blood vessels, causing inhibition of movement and depressed metabolism, so can prolonged sadness. Heat dries the blood, and emotions like anxiety, anger, and anguish that produce heat can be as harmful as prolonged exposure to intense summer sun. Congestion of blood and moisture can generate emotional discomfort, and unresolved suffering can cause qi and blood stasis. An osteoma could be the outcome of accumulated heat (regardless of its source) in the kidney (the kidney governs bone and marrow) that dries and erodes the moist, spongy substances in bone, causing the formation of a hard and immobile mass. Additional factors like the effects of environmental pollution, chemical contamination of food, fungi, viruses, and bacteria can also produce stagnation of qi and blood. The traditional view does not give greater emphasis to either the poisonous effects of entrenched negative emotions or spoiled food: toxins, regardless of their origin, are identified by their pernicious effects. Tumors in the breast may result from toxic accumulation and stagnation of qi and blood in the channels that pass through the breast, eventually producing a lump.

The following sequence outlines a likely etiology of malignancy: adverse pathogenic factors initiate the stagnation and depletion of qi, moisture, and blood; the persistence of deficiency and stasis impairs the coordinated function of the organ networks, which leads to further weakness, obstruction, and attrition of essence, the original source (yuan) of qi and blood. The malignant process is characterized by extreme disorder. When qi, blood, and essence become depleted enough, yin-yang begins to disintegrate or separate, and chaos ensues. Disorganization of cellular behavior is a manifestation of the loss of coherence—failure of the body to govern differentiation and proliferation.

The development of cancer is a progression from extreme stagnation to emptiness, to dissociation, to alienation, and finally, anarchy and death. Critical stasis means that a region of tissue is no longer governable by the ordinary circulatory and regulatory mechanisms of qi, leading eventually to a degeneration of coordinated activity. Critical emptiness
means that the region sequestered by the malignant process consumes the physiological resources of the organism, but contributes nothing in return, engendering an accelerating process of attrition. And critical alienation is manifested in the attitude of hopelessness and helplessness
that a person experiences when a non-responsive and insensate entity—the cancer—arising from the organism’s own sacred terrain, expropriates its vital resources while ceasing to be subject to its ontological influence. Cancer is a condition of functional chaos, representing one of the most
advanced stages of disorganization—wild qi—requiring intensive and aggressive strategies to restore integrity. This condition known as wild qi prefigures the fatal separation of yin-yang.8,9

CANCER TYPES: DIAGNOSTIC PATTERNS

Cancer patterns typically involve phlegm, toxins, deficient qi and blood, and blood stagnation. The same cancer, eg, stomach cancer may result from a variety of patterns, such as liver qi invading the stomach, stomach yang deficiency, phlegm stagnation and food retention, blood stagnation due to qi stagnation, stomach yin deficiency due to stomach heat, or qi and blood deficiency. For colon cancer, the patterns may be damp heat in the large intestine, toxins, spleen and kidney yang deficiency, liver and kidney yin deficiency, and qi and blood deficiency. Breast cancer patterns include liver qi stagnation, blood stagnation and accumulation of toxins, qi and blood deficiency, and spleen qi deficiency with phlegm accumulation. Brain tumors may result from phlegm accumulation, and kidney qi or yin deficiency.10

There are 2 diagnostic categories that interact: one is called bian zheng, meaning the constitutional pattern of the person, and the other is bian bing, meaning the pattern of the disease. Depending on these patterns, acupuncture treatment and herbal therapy are tailored to fit— individualized according to the pathological pattern and the nature of the patient. Acupuncture relieves stagnation and deficiency by mobilizing the qi of particular organ networks. Herbal formulas relieve stagnation by using qi and blood activating herbs, clear heat via cooling herbs, dispel dampness with drying herbs, and antidote toxins or dissolve phlegm with herbs that remove or dissolve these pathogenic entities. Cold is relieved through the use of warming herbs, and overall strength is restored with tonic herbs. Some patterns may serve as markers for enhanced survival as well. For example, in a study of 254 women with cervical cancer treated with radiotherapy and followed for 3 years, those diagnosed with qi stagnation exhibited a significantly reduced survival compared to those diagnosed with liver and kidney yin deficiency.11

There are many treatment protocols that combine acupuncture and medicinal herbs to reduce swelling and eliminate the pain caused by tumors as well as the adverse effects of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. In particular, herbal prescriptions that invigorate the qi, nourish the blood, clear heat and toxins, and eliminate blood stasis can strengthen the body, enhance adaptation to stress, increase host resistance to infection, inflammation, and proliferation of tissue, and retard the progression of tumors, promoting long-term survival. These are primary therapeutic strategies for shrinking tumors that have been applied since the 17th century.12 While surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy
are welcomed as viable treatments for cancer in modern China, Japan and other Asian countries, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine represent complementary or adjunctive therapies that sometimes improve the capacity of conventional Western medicine to achieve desired outcomes.13

CHEMOTHERAPY AND RADIATION: A YIN-YANG
PERSPECTIVE 14

Radiation is a form of extreme yang that produces heat and inflammation, cooking the yin, damaging the blood and moisture. The drying of blood and moisture leads to coagulation (static blood) and congelation (phlegm). Stagnant blood and phlegm further impair the circulation of qi, moisture, and blood, resulting in more deficiency and weakening of the organ networks. Radiation often penetrates deep into the bones, drying the marrow and eroding essence.

Chemotherapy is a form of extreme yin, a poison that damages the yang, the ability of qi to move the blood and moisture, warm the body, and transform food into qi and blood. When the qi fails to move blood and fluids, blood stagnation and dampness arise. When circulation is retarded, it becomes difficult for the body to stay warm. Internal cold can transform dampness into phlegm and cause blood to coagulate. When
digestion is impaired, the stomach and spleen fail to generate adequate qi and blood, and deficiency ensues. When qi is depleted, blood and fluids easily leak from the blood vessels and body membranes. Prolonged deficiency leads to the attrition of marrow and essence.

The adverse effects of radiation and chemotherapy parallel the signs and symptoms of severe deficiencies of qi, moisture, blood, and essence: weakness, fatigue, pallor, susceptibility to infection, edema, dehydration, hair loss, restlessness, irritability, depression, hot flashes, night sweats, thirst, dry skin, infertility, lack of libido, amenorrhea, indigestion, anorexia, weight loss, diarrhea, ulcerations, bruising, bleeding, flaccidity, joint and
muscle pain, anemia, leukopenia, shortness of breath, congestive heart failure, inability to concentrate, memory loss, heartburn and headache.

Just when there is a demand for adequate qi and blood, the capacity to generate these resources is undermined. The conditions that produce cancer, namely stagnation, deficiency, and disharmony, are further aggravated by radiation and chemotherapy, neither of which discriminates between healthy and abnormal tissue. The vicious cycle of attrition caused by the disease is paralleled by the treatment. While Western medicine aggressively attacks the cancer, Chinese traditional medicine supports and restores the healthy function that enables patients to tolerate and recover from conventional therapies, surviving with an
improved quality of life.

ACUPUNCTURE

The National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference in 1997 declared that there is clear evidence that acupuncture is an effective modality, particularly for nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy, and for the relief of pain. The American Cancer Society informs consumers that, “Acupuncture is simple, and often works. It has few side effects or complications, and the cost is low. For these reasons, it can be
a good choice for some problems.”

Acupuncture is based on the assumption that qi courses through a network of channels (jing luo), just as streams and rivers flow under and across the surface of the earth. This lattice of channels forms a web of qi that unites all parts of the organism. Within the Chinese traditional model, acupuncture works by regulating the movement of qi. By restoring healthy circulation of qi and blood, stagnation resolves. By optimizing the function
of the 5 organ networks, vulnerability to disease is reduced. In modern language, acupuncture modulates fundamental homeodynamic mechanisms that govern hematopoeisis, cellular and humoral immunity, temperature and pressure, respiration, metabolism, hormonal secretion and sensitivity, neuromuscular coordination, and diurnal rhythms. Microcirculation in the capillary beds that surround internal organs is encouraged, thereby supporting processes of healthy nutrition and detoxification. Acupuncture also stimulates the central nervous system, activating mechanisms of repair and regeneration. In traditional language,
acupuncture harmonizes yin-yang and the organ networks responsible for regulating growth, proliferation, and dynamic harmony.

Pain signals the stagnation of qi, blood and phlegm within the channels. Slender stainless steel needles inserted in particular points located along these channels near the surface of the skin (acupoints), can clear stagnation, reinvigorating the function of the internal organs. Within the modern scientific model, the mechanism of action of acupuncture has only been partially described, mostly in the area of pain relief. Through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), descriptive studies
have documented that sensory-related acupoints have brain cortical correspondences that may point toward an explanation of how acupuncture has effects beyond analgesia, namely upon homeostatic regulatory mechanisms not yet understood by Western physiology or medicine.15 Normalizing of the physiological processes of the cardiovascular,16 immunological,17 and gastrointestinal18 systems, as well as an anti-inflammatory19 modulatory effect have been also been documented in preliminary studies.

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