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Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Feb
16

CAN Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) join hands to treat cancer patients?

If you asked Prof Li FuMin, a Singapore-based consultant TCM practitioner who specialises in immunology and oncology, the answer is yes. In fact, an integration of both techniques is more beneficial than using any of them alone, he says, but only if doctors from both sides talked to each other more often.

“Both Western and TCM have their individual strengths and weaknesses. And cancer is a unique disease that neither of them can treat nor cure fully,” Li, 68, explains when met in Kuala Lumpur recently. “That is why integrating the two might be more efficient in treating the disease.”

Although his statement might appeal to conventional logic, barriers to an integrative approach in cancer treatment have thus far prevented it from becoming a widespread reality. The lack of communication and mutual trust between practitioners from both systems are among two of them.

“In China, where Western medicine and TCM are deemed equal, and medical students from both systems are required to have basic knowledge of the other medical system, there is generally greater integration in the approach,” Li said. In other places, where complementary medicine is still regarded with a huge dose of scepticism, patients can find it more difficult to benefit from both systems.

“Sometimes patients are told to completely avoid consuming traditional Chinese medicines when they are on conventional cancer treatment,” Li laments. But on the contrary, TCM can play a supportive role to cancer treatment, he added.

Elaborating on the way Western medicine and TCM are usually integrated in cancer treatment today, Prof Li offered: “Usually, patients will go through the conventional therapies like surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy first before they go for TCM therapies.

“It can act as a complementary therapy that could help alleviate some of the side effects of these cancer treatments, regulate patients’ body systems to improve their quality of life and prevent the recurrence of cancer once the disease is stabilised.”

This is the way Li would suggest his patients go about it too. “After being diagnosed with cancer, many patients will consult many doctors, trained both in Western medicine and TCM. But I would always advise my patients to seize the opportunity to remove the tumour or go for chemotherapy or radiotherapy first.

“After that, TCM can help them with side effects and their recovery. It can also help reduce the chances of recurrence when taken long-term,” he explained.

The reason for this approach is a very practical one, because TCM practitioners could not diagnose cancer.

“The claim that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners could diagnose cancer is a fallacy,” Li emphasised. First of all, many cancers have little or no symptoms until it reaches a late stage, which make diagnosis through the TCM way (observation of external symptoms and enquiries into a patients’ lifestyle) difficult, if not impossible.

Second, as TCM practitioners deduce the presence of a disease or ailments by relating certain groups of external symptoms to unhealthy changes inside the body, it is also difficult to diagnose a highly variable disease like cancer accurately.

“Cancers can manifest in very different ways in individuals, and we now know that external symptoms may sometimes mislead us in our diagnosis,” Li said. “That is why, to diagnose cancer, or other diseases, for that matter, we need to use modern diagnostic facilities,” he added.

Besides leaving the diagnosis to Western medicine, Li also stressed the importance of communication between attending doctors from both systems of medicine, particularly when a patient goes for conventional cancer treatment and TCM at the same time.

“When patients go for both treatments separately without informing their doctors about the other treatment, they may risk being repeatedly treated, over-treated, or mistreated. For instance, if you are about to go for a surgery, a traditional Chinese herb that increases your blood flow may cause you to bleed excessively during the procedure,” he said.

You would also be better off if you consult a TCM doctor who specialises in cancer treatment and understands conventional cancer treatment.

“In cancer treatments, only when the TCM doctor understands his patient’s condition and the procedures his patient had undergone completely will he be able to prescribe the best treatment to suit his patient’s needs,” said Li, who also reads his patients medical records, X-rays and laboratory results when they are referred to him.

“And just like Western Medicine, TCM doctors can specialise in the treatment of certain diseases as well,” Li said.

In Malaysia, although there are efforts in integrating TCM and other traditional complementary medicine systems into public hospitals, the recognition of TCM as a complementary therapy for cancer treatment is still limited.

However, said Malaysian Oncological Society president Datuk Dr Mohd Ibrahim Wahid, many cancer patients undergoing treatment still seek alternative treatment, with or without their oncologists’ consent or knowledge.

“So, even if we strongly oppose it, it doesn’t help the total care of the patient,” he said.

And since his patients are going to go for alternative medicine like TCM anyway, he prefers to know about it. “If (TCM) is used as a complementary therapy, and if it has no unsafe or untoward interactions with the treatments we are giving our patients, then we have no problems with that,” he said.

“We are only concerned when patients rely solely on traditional treatments as an alternative to conventional treatment and delay appropriate treatment. This is because it will jeopardise our chances of curing or treating the cancer,” he added.

So, if cancer patients undergoing treatment are taking alternative medicine, Dr Ibrahim strongly advises them to inform their oncologists.

“Even when we are still not exactly sure how these medicines interact with conventional cancer treatment, we can monitor our patients’ condition with blood tests to ensure that their condition do not worsen as a result,” he says.

The way forward, as Dr Ibrahim sees it, is for oncologists to work together with TCM practitioners for the benefit of cancer patients. “We can’t say that Western medicine can cure every ailment, and we can’t say that Chinese medicine can cure every ailment too.

“Maybe by working together, patients can have the best of both worlds and they can be reassured that we are doing the best we can to give them the best possible care,” he said.

Dec
30

    A  survey was recently conducted in Hong Kong on the cancer patients’attitudes towards Chinese medicine treatment. Methods Cancer patients from three Chinese medicine clinics and one oncology clinic were interviewed with a structured questionnaire.

    Results Of a total of 786 participants included in the study, 42.9% used Western medicine only; 57.1% used at least one form of Chinese medicine; 5 participants used Chinese medicine only; and 56.5% used Chinese medicine before/during/after Western medicine treatment. Commonly used Western medicine and Chinese medicine treatments included chemotherapy (63.7%), radiotherapy (62.0%), surgery (57.6%), Chinese herbal medicine (53.9%) and Chinese dietary therapy (9.5%).

    Participants receiving chemotherapy used Chinese medicine (63.3%) more than those receiving any other Western medicine treatments. Spearman correlation coefficients showed that the selection of Chinese medicine was associated with the cancer type (rs=-1.36; P<0.001), stage (rs=0.178; P<0.001), duration (rs=-0.074; P=0.037), whether receiving chemotherapy (rs=0.165; P<0.001) and palliative therapy (rs=0.087; P=0.015).

    Nearly two-thirds of the participants (N=274) did not tell their physicians about using Chinese medicine. Over two-thirds of all participants (68.2%) believed that integrated Chinese and Western medicine was effective.Conclusion Chinese medicine is commonly used among Hong Kong cancer patients.

    The interviewed cancer patients in Hong Kong considered integrative Chinese and Western medicine is an effective cancer treatment.
Source: Chinese Medicine 2009, 4:25

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Sep
29

Researchers from the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica (SIMM), Chinese Academy of Sciences reported in the recent issue of “Cancer Research” the discovery of a novel mechanism of a traditional Chinese medicine in treating cancer.

The traditional Chinese herb medicine Euphorbia fischeriana Steud has been widely used in China for treating various cancers. Several compounds in the medicinal herb have been reported to have anti-tumor effects. However, the mechanisms of these compounds in inhibiting tumor growth have not been fully understood.

Dr. Ying Wang from Dr Yu’s research group, identified 17-hydroxy-jolkinolide B (HJB) from the herb as a novel inhibitor of the JAK family kinases. The mechanism of this compound is rather unique. It covalently cross-links the JAKs into dimers and inactivates their kinase activities. This effect on the JAKs is very specific. It does not affect many other kinases. As a consequence, it induces apoptosis of tumor cells, particularly those with constitutively activated JAK/STAT3. The JAK family kinases are important targets for anti-cancer and anti-inflammation drugs.

This discovery provides a new direction for JAK inhibitor drug research and development. It also helps to understand the mechanisms of the traditional Chinese medicines in treating cancer.

Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences

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