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3 Ways TCM Benefits Cancer Patients

Cancer patients can benefit from incorporating TCM therapies into their cancer treatment. Here are three reasons why.

Two older women smile while hugging each other; one is a cancer patient with her head wrapped.

It seems that we all know at least one person who is a cancer patient. This is because cancer is on the rise in Malaysia. One out of every 10 Malaysians will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) increasingly plays a complementary and adjunctive role to conventional cancer treatment. Let’s delve into how TCM views cancer and three ways it can help cancer patients on their journey to recovery.

How TCM Views Cancer 

TCM views cancer as a disease that arises due to several factors that greatly weaken the body: 

  • A compromised or weakened immune system 
  • Microbial pathogens or environmental toxins 
  • Emotional and psychological stress 
  • A harmful diet  

In TCM, cancer-related syndromes cause the inflammatory accumulation of pathogens (Heat, Blood Stasis) that turn into cancerous growths (hard masses). TCM’s approach to fighting pathogens prioritises strengthening the body, which makes it a great complement to more aggressive clinical treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

3 Ways TCM Helps Cancer Patients Fight the Disease  

Here are three ways cancer patients can benefit from using TCM as part of their cancer treatment.

Prepares the body for cancer treatment 

Clinical cancer treatment such as surgery relies on the aggressive and invasive removal of cancerous growth. TCM’s holistic approach to a whole-body balance and health helps enhance a cancer patient’s resilience during treatment. 

Research has shown that pre-operative acupuncture can help relieve pre-operative anxiety as well as assist with anaesthesia during surgery. The same research also found that acupuncture reduced post-operative pain, and shortened post-surgery hospital stays. 

Acupuncturist hand places a needle on the palm of a patient.
Acupuncture helps cancer patients get through their cancer treatment by reducing stress, pain, and nausea.

Alleviates side effects of clinical treatment 

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy often come with major side effects such as nausea and weakened immunity because of a depletion in qi. These side effects can be so debilitating that sometimes patients consider stopping treatment.

One side effect is chemotherapy-induced nausea, which makes it difficult for patients to eat without vomiting. Without adequate nutrition, recovery can be seriously undermined. This is where TCM’s qi-restoring strategies can help.

A Beijing study of 134 participants published in 2020 demonstrated that acupuncture reduced the severity of nausea and vomiting. The study also noted the much-improved nutritional status among the group that received acupuncture. 

Younger woman spoon-feeds older woman in wheelchair outside.
TCM helps improve the appetite of cancer patients suffering from nausea due to chemotherapy.

TCM herbs have also been shown to reduce the adverse effects of chemotherapy drugs. Senior TCM physician He Qiu Ling cites the example of her 50-year-old nasopharyngeal cancer patient who managed to heal with the help of TCM herbs.

These include privet fruit (nu zhen guo, 女贞果), astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪), trichosanthes root (tian hua fen, 天花粉), longan aril (long yan rou, 龙眼肉), and malt and wheat sprouts.

He suffered from oral ulcers and poor appetite after his cancer treatment and was prescribed herbs to nourish his yin and blood and invigorate his qi.

After three weeks, his oral ulcers healed, and he could ingest soft foods again. Two months after treatment, most of his symptoms were eased and he was able to work and resume regular activities.

Suppresses the growth of tumours 

More recently, there has been research that indicates certain TCM herbs have anti-cancer effects.

According to TCM, inflammation caused by cancer cells results in a worsening condition or metastasis. This happens through the accumulation of Stagnated toxins — termed Fire toxins — in the visceral organs and meridians. Cancer cells then grow uncontrollably, spreading to other parts of the body. 

Certain herbs can expel these toxins and reduce inflammation, suppressing cancer growth to a degree, asserts Physician He. An article published by Cancer Medicine in 2019 seems to agree with her. The article cites studies that show how certain compounds like curcumin (found in turmeric), resveratrol (in red wine, some berries and peanuts), and berberine (from plants such as goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric) in TCM herbs battle against cancer cells. 

Japanese knotweed or P. cuspidatum plant, showing leaves and flowers.
Research has found that the resveratrol found in TCM herbs such as Japanese knotweed root (hu zhang, 虎杖) can act against cancer cells.

Incorporating TCM therapies into cancer treatment provides a holistic approach to support healing in cancer patients. Its relatively gentle and gradual effects help deflect the side effects of aggressive treatments. At the same time, it strengthens the body’s ability to fight the disease. 

Ready to incorporate TCM into your journey of healing and recovery? Before you do, consult a qualified TCM physician for a thorough assessment of your body constitution and inform them of the prescription drugs you’re on.

It’s also necessary to let an oncologist know you want to try adjunctive treatments. It’ll ensure the effectiveness of clinical and TCM remedies and prevent potential contraindications.

This is an adaptation of the article “3 Ways TCM Benefits Cancer Patients”, which first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website.


  1. World Health Organization (WHO). 2021. Malaysia Cancer Fact Sheet. [online] [Accessed 7 February 2023]  
  2. Gleneagles Hospitals. Cancer Statistics: Cancer on the Rise in Malaysia. [online] [Accessed 7 February 2023] 
  3. Cancer Medicine. 2019. Traditional Chinese medicine as a cancer treatment: Modern perspectives of ancient but advanced science. [online] [Accessed 7 February 2023] 
  4. Clinical Oncology. 2019. Chinese Medicine in Cancer Treatment – How is it Practised in the East and the West? [online] [Accessed 7 February 2023] 
  5. Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2021. Integrative medicine in the era of cancer immunotherapy: Challenges and opportunities. [Accessed 7 February 2023] 
  6. Thoracic Cancer. 2015. Traditional Chinese medicine and cancer: History, present situation, and development. [Accessed 7 February 2023] 
  7. Chinese Medical Journal. 2019. Perioperative acupuncture medicine: a novel concept instead of acupuncture anesthesia. [Accessed 7 February 2023] 
  8. Chinese Medicine. 2020. Efficacy of acupuncture in the prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in patients with advanced cancer: a multi-center, single-blind, randomized, sham-controlled clinical research. [Accessed 7 February 2023] 

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