Editor’s Note from Kath Bartlett: Chinese medicine is becoming more accepted as adjunctive treatment for cancer patients. Sloan Kettering now has a certification program for acupuncturists. One of the problems cancer patients face is the detriment to their bodies from aggressive chemo and radiation treatment. Among other problems, chemo patients blood cell counts drop, often at alarming rates during therapy. The western answer is more drugs, including Procrit to treat anemia. Recently the FDA has warned against using this drug, due to associated heart problems and that they actually speed the growth of malignant tumors. Fortunately Chinese medicine effectively raises blood cell counts for these patients.
The FDA issued a strong warning that will go on labels for three widely used drugs that treat anemia for cancer and dialysis patients: Procrit, Aranesp and Epogen, saying the drugs cause stokes and cardiac problems and speed the growth of malignant tumors. Fortunately for these patients there is a safer therapy available that effectively increases blood cell production: Chinese medicine.
Several organizations have endorsed the use of acupuncture for cancer treatment. The National Cancer Institute notes western studies are beginning to be done that show efficacy of acupuncture in increasing blood cell counts:
Scientific studies on the use of acupuncture to treat cancer and side effects of cancer began only recently. Laboratory studies suggest that acupuncture can reduce vomiting caused by chemotherapy and may help the immune system be stronger during chemotherapy. Studies support the use of electroacupuncture to relieve cancer pain. Laboratory studies have also looked at how acupuncture works for cancer treatment, such as the role of acupuncture in stimulating immune functions, including increasing blood cell count and enhancing lymphocyte and natural killer cell activity.
The Mesothelioma society agrees:
Furthermore, cancer studies have shown that acupuncture spurs blood cell production and lymphocyte activity. The end result of these processes is an increase in immune functions.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure, affecting the lining of the lung.
The Huffington Post also recommends acupuncture for cancer patients to improve blood cell production:
Immune System Modulation: Many cancers and many cancer treatments cause a suppression of the bone marrow, the source of blood cells that are the army of the immune system. Acupuncture increases blood cell production and enhances Natural Killer Cells and Lymphocytes which leads to increased immune response and decreased risk of infection.
Chinese medicine improves red and white blood cell production, including lymphocytes and neutrophils. Though western studies emphasize acupuncture, herbal formulas are particularly important in raising blood cell counts. There are many blood building formulas with a proven track record. In my practice, I have seen blood cell counts markedly improve when acupuncture patients add Chinese herbs to their treatment plan.
Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is part of the Chinese medicine Kidney system. Many kidney tonic herbs and formulas are known for increasing marrow. Chinese herbalists use a strategy of tonifying the Kidney, Blood and the Spleen to increase blood cell counts.
The spleen stores white blood cells. Chinese medicine considers the Spleen an important component of immune function. In Chinese medicine the Spleen responsible for extracting the nutrients from food necessary to build qi (energy) and blood. Patients with low blood cell counts usually suffer from fatigue, so building qi to improve energy is also an important component of treatment. Tonify the Kidney and Spleen improves fatigue. Peony root and angelica are commonly used blood tonic herbs. Ginseng is a famous qi tonic that builds Kidney energy.
I hope that patients and conventional medical practitioners will become more open minded about integrating Chinese medicine as a safe and effective option in treatment plans for cancer patients.