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Can Chinese medicine treat cancer?

Nearly all of us are affected by cancer at some stage of our lives. Whether it be someone close to home or an extended family member or friend, we are never far away from someone coping with this disease. As an acupuncturist and Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, a common question asked in the clinic is whether Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help with the treatment of cancer.

TCM has been treating cancer for centuries. There are traditional Chinese herbal and acupuncture strategies that are said to reduce masses and strengthen constitutional health. Recent studies have shown some Chinese herbs have anti cancer properties. However, there is no magic Chinese medicine cure for cancer. Currently, TCM is best aligned alongside biomedicine, providing supportive care to assist with the side effects of cancer treatment and improving immune function.

Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine can help immune function, sleep, toxicity and energy.

Conventional biomedical treatment of cancer usually involves a combination of treatments such as surgery, various forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Treatment is now usually tailored for each individual patient, as each case and type of cancer has different characteristics and manifestations. Generally speaking the prevalence of cancer is increasing, however survival rates are also improving, depending on the type of cancer and the timing of detection. An obvious objective of biomedical treatment is to kill cancer cells and prevent their progression. Unfortunately this can involve terrible side effects, as healthy cells are also damaged, compromising overall health and lessening life quality.


A common side effect of chemotherapy is irritation of the mucosal lining of the stomach, which can cause daily debilitating nausea. Another common side effect is fatigue. Apart from dealing with the diagnosis of cancer, waking up with these symptoms every day makes life very debilitating to say the least. Chemotherapy will also reduce white blood cell production as it attempts to suppress cancer cells. During chemotherapy an oncologist will often advise avoiding complementary medicine such as Chinese herbs to prevent any possible adverse reaction. Therefore herbs are often used in between treatment courses or post chemotherapy. Acupuncture does not represent the same concerns and is able to be used safely during and after chemotherapy treatment to help with nausea and fatigue. Another option for the treatment of nausea may be to wear an acupressure bracelet; these are often used for travel sickness.

In between and post chemotherapy treatments is the ideal time to take Chinese herbs as there will be no risk of drug interaction. Evidence shows herbs can help reduce side effects from chemotherapy such as myelosuppression (decreased production of red and white blood cells). This will reduce the likelihood of infection.

Radiation therapy

Whilst it treats cancer cells, radiation therapy can leave local tissues reddened, dry and even burnt. From a TCM perspective damage can occur not only to local tissue but also the body as a whole. Radiation can create toxic heat, which can deplete body fluids and damage the Yin. This may cause fatigue, insomnia and dryness. Localised tissue

Acupuncturist prepares to tap needle into patients hand

Acupuncture is useful in treating the chemotherapy side effects of fatigue, nausea, immune function and neurological pain.

damage such as xerostomia (dry mouth syndrome) is also common. Herbal medicine and TCM dietary advice can be very helpful in replenishing Yin, clearing toxic heat and moistening the body. For more specific tissue damage, acupuncture can be useful to replenish blood supply and Qi to the area. 


Surgery will involve the removal of a tumour or mass often including local organs and tissues. The healing process of surgery is considerable and symptoms during this time may include fatigue, neural pain and dysfunction to local tissues such as the bowel or lung. TCM can provide supportive care for the recovery of all surgeries. Surgery is frequently followed by chemotherapy in cancer treatments, which often leads to worse side effects and a prolonged recovery. In this circumstance TCM can offer effective relief and help recovery.

Nick Conquest

Nick Conquest
Gardenvale Traditional Chinese Medicine

Current research

Below are some examples of current research and trial reviews of TCM assisting with the treatment of cancer. If you have any questions regarding current research please feel free to email us at

‘Treatment of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer with Chinese herbal medicine by stages combined with chemotherapy’ (2011) by Zhen Ye Xu, et al. Link here

‘Chinese herbal medicines as adjuvant treatment during chemo- or radio-therapy for cancer’ (2010) by Qi, F et al. Link here

‘Electroacupuncture for Nausea, Vomiting, and Myelosuppression in Women Receiving Adjuvant Chemotherapy for Early Breast Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial’ (2012) by Jane M. Beith et al. Link here

‘Acupuncture for Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients With Breast Cancer: A Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Trial’ (2012) by Molassiotis, A et al. Link here 

‘A Clinical Study on Safety and Efficacy of Aidi Injection Combined with Chemotherapy’ (2011) by Xu, Hong-xia, et al. Link here

Published on November 12, 2015