Why and How Oncologists are Leaning in to Eastern Medicine

Why and How Oncologists are Leaning in to Eastern Medicine
June 1, 2023 Jackie Gomez


Why and How Doctors Are Leaning In

Eastern Medicine in Oncology

In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in acceptance and acknowledgement of the integration of Eastern medicine, notably Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), inside Western medicine. By combining the advantages of both systems, this cooperative strategy offers a more thorough and all-encompassing approach to healthcare. We will examine how Eastern medicine is being applied alongside Western medicine in a number of sectors in this blog, with an emphasis on its usage in oncology. We will explore specific case studies, ongoing research, well-known medical professionals, hospital systems, and Eastern medicine’s protocols, uses, and results.

Integration of Eastern Medicine in Multiple Western Medicine Fields:

With its focus on personalized care, encouraging balance, and maximizing the body’s natural healing processes, eastern medicine complements western medicine in many different fields. Some of the fields where the integration of Eastern and Western medicine has shown promising results include:

  1. Pain Management: Acupuncture, a key component of TCM, is widely used in conjunction with Western pain management strategies. Studies have shown it has demonstrated effectiveness in alleviating chronic pain, reducing the need for medications, and enhancing overall well-being.
  2. Mental Health: Eastern medicine practices, such as meditation, mindfulness, and herbal formulations, are increasingly incorporated into psychotherapy and psychiatric treatments. Studies have shown they help manage stress, anxiety, depression, and improve overall mental well-being.
  3. Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy: Techniques like Tui Na (Chinese therapeutic massage) and Qi Gong (energy cultivation exercises) are utilized alongside Western rehabilitation and physical therapy approaches. This integration aids in enhancing mobility, reducing pain, and improving overall functional outcomes.

Eastern Medicine in Oncology:

welleum Herbal TincturesThe integration of Eastern medicine in oncology has gained considerable attention due to its potential to improve quality of life, alleviate treatment side effects, and enhance overall cancer care. As more patients see a large improvement in their quality of life, others, including physicians, are catching on. Here are some notable case studies and ongoing research highlighting the integration of Eastern medicine in oncology:

Acupuncture for Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting:

Multiple studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. For instance, a study conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York showed that acupuncture significantly decreased the severity and frequency of nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Herbal Medicine Adjunct to Cancer Treatment:

Herbal formulations, when used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments, have shown potential benefits. A comprehensive study showed  TCM formulas have achieved multifunctional therapeutic efficacy in cancer treatment. The results indicated improved quality of life, reduced chemotherapy-related side effects, and increased overall survival rates.

Integrative Care in Palliative Oncology:

Integrative oncology programs, which combine Eastern and Western modalities, aim to provide comprehensive support to cancer patients throughout their treatment journey. Prominent institutions such as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have implemented integrative care programs that incorporate acupuncture, herbal medicine, mind-body techniques, and nutrition counseling. These programs focus on symptom management, improving treatment tolerance, and enhancing overall well-being.

Mind-Body Practices for Stress Reduction:

Meditation in Eastern MedicineMind-body practices, including meditation, yoga, and tai chi, are increasingly integrated into cancer care to address stress, anxiety, and emotional well-being. Research has shown that these practices help reduce stress, improve sleep, and enhance patients’ ability to cope with the challenges of cancer treatment.

Hospital Systems Embracing Herbal Medicine in Cancer Care:

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center:

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City is at the forefront of integrating herbal medicine into their comprehensive cancer care. Their Integrative Medicine Service offers consultations with herbalists who work alongside oncologists to develop personalized treatment plans. Herbal formulations are carefully chosen to address treatment side effects, improve quality of life, and enhance treatment outcomes. MSKCC’s commitment to herbal medicine integration is evidenced by their active participation in research, clinical trials, and ongoing patient care.

MD Anderson Cancer Center:

MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, recognizes the value of herbal medicine in cancer care. Their Integrative Medicine Program collaborates with herbalists and oncologists to provide integrative care options for cancer patients. Herbal medicine is incorporated into supportive care plans to manage treatment side effects, boost immunity, and promote overall well-being. MD Anderson’s integrative medicine team works closely with patients, offering educational resources, personalized consultations, and ongoing support throughout their cancer journey.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute:

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, has integrated herbal medicine into their comprehensive cancer care approach. Their Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies offers a range of integrative services, including herbal consultations. Herbalists work collaboratively with oncologists and other healthcare providers to develop individualized treatment plans that encompass herbal formulations. These formulations are used to address specific symptoms, manage treatment side effects, and enhance patients’ overall well-being.

Benefits and Impact on Patient Outcomes:

The integration of herbal medicine within these hospital systems has yielded numerous benefits for cancer patients:

Enhanced Symptom Management:

Glass Storage For HerbsHerbal formulations have been successful in managing treatment side effects such as nausea, fatigue, pain, and gastrointestinal issues. By incorporating herbal medicine into treatment plans, hospital systems can provide patients with effective, natural options for symptom relief, thereby improving their comfort and quality of life during cancer treatment.

Personalized Care:

By working in collaboration with herbalists, oncologists can offer patients personalized treatment plans that take into account their unique needs and preferences. Herbal medicine allows for individualized formulations, tailored to specific symptoms and treatment regimens, optimizing patient care and overall treatment outcomes.

Improved Treatment Tolerance:

The integration of herbal medicine has shown promise in supporting patients’ overall well-being and immune function. By reducing treatment-related side effects and boosting vitality, patients are better equipped to tolerate and complete their prescribed treatments successfully.

Empowered Patients:

Hospital systems that integrate herbal medicine empower patients by offering them a range of options beyond conventional treatments. Patients actively participate in their care decisions, allowing them to explore integrative approaches that align with their values and goals.

Herbal Formula Protocols in Oncology:

Herbal medicine, a fundamental component of TCM, offers a vast array of botanical remedies that can be tailored to the individual needs of cancer patients. These herbal formulas are carefully crafted based on TCM principles, aiming to restore balance, support the body’s natural healing mechanisms, and alleviate treatment-related side effects. Here are some noteworthy herbal formula protocols used in oncology:

Modified Xiaoyao San (MXS) Formula

Red Peony | Chi ShaoThe Modified Xiaoyao San formula, consisting of various herbs such as Bupleurum root, White peony root, and Chinese skullcap root, is commonly used to address emotional and psychological distress in cancer patients. Studies have shown that MXS can reduce anxiety, depression, and improve overall quality of life. It has been integrated into cancer care at renowned institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Yi Qi Huo Xue Tang (YQHXT) Formula

Yi Qi Huo Xue Tang, a formula comprising herbs like astragalus root, red peony root, and Chinese salvia root, focuses on promoting circulation, enhancing immune function, and relieving fatigue commonly experienced by cancer patients. It has been employed as an adjunct therapy to conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, to improve vitality and reduce treatment-induced side effects.

Huang Qin Tang (HQT) Formula

Huang Qin Tang, composed of herbs including Chinese skullcap root, licorice root, and ginger, has shown promise in reducing chemotherapy-induced gastrointestinal toxicity. Research conducted at renowned institutions, such as MD Anderson Cancer Center, has demonstrated that HQT can alleviate symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, enhancing patients’ treatment tolerance and overall well-being.

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (BZYQT) Formula

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, formulated with herbs like astragalus root, white atractylodes rhizome, and licorice root, is utilized to boost the immune system and enhance vitality in cancer patients. This herbal formula has been incorporated into integrative oncology programs at institutions like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where it is used to support patients’ immune function during and after cancer treatments.

Renowned Physicians and Hospital Systems

Renowned physicians and hospital systems have embraced the integration of herbal medicine in cancer care. For instance:

  1. Dr. Jingduan Yang, a prominent integrative medicine specialist, has incorporated TCM herbal formulas into his oncology practice, aiming to enhance patients’ treatment outcomes and improve their quality of life.
  2. The integrative oncology departments at institutions like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have integrated herbal medicine into their comprehensive cancer care programs. These institutions offer multidisciplinary approaches, combining the expertise of oncologists, herbalists, and other healthcare providers to provide optimal support to cancer patients.

Leading hospital systems, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, have embraced the integration of herbal medicine in their comprehensive cancer care programs. By collaborating with herbalists and incorporating herbal medicine into treatment protocols, these institutions have enhanced symptom management, personalized care, treatment tolerance, and patient empowerment. The integration of herbal medicine within these hospital systems represents a progressive approach prioritizing a multimodal approach that greatly benefits patients. 

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