Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit

Top TCM Ways To Manage Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer becomes more manageable when detected early. Learn the signs here as well as TCM remedies to support your western medicine treatment plan.

Lower abdominal pain may be an indication of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is estimated to affect more than 62,000 Americans in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s responsible for 7% of all cancers and 3 percent of deaths.

However, because symptoms aren’t always obvious right away, early detection can be hard. This makes the disease more deadly than it could have been.

In this guide, you’ll learn the causes and early symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Then, read on to find out how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help support Western medicine treatment options.

Pancreatic Cancer Causes

As with all other cancers, pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells in the pancreas undergo changes that cause them to multiply uncontrollably.

Though the exact cause is unknown, cigarette smoking, obesity, and exposure to chemical use by dry cleaners and metal workers may increase the risk. Diabetes and chronic inflammation of the pancreas resulting from excessive alcohol consumption are also linked with pancreatic cancer. 

TCM regards all cancer cells as “toxic cells” in the body. Pancreatic cancer is significantly related to the TCM spleen and stomach. It is caused by a deficiency of zangfu, qi, and blood. The symptoms are produced due to qi-stagnation, blood stasis, phlegm-coagulation, and toxin accumulation. 

Common Symptoms To Watch Out For

Jaundice, or yellow eyes, may be a sign of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer usually produces symptoms only in the advanced stages. Many symptoms are also common in other medical conditions. This may cause a delay in the right diagnosis. If you have one or more of the symptoms below, check with your medical practitioner. Early detection and treatment are crucial for survival.

Jaundice

Jaundice refers to the yellowing of eyes and skin. Other symptoms associated with jaundice include dark-yellow colored urine, light-colored or greasy stools, and itchy skin

Abdomen Or Back Pain

Pain in the abdomen or back may occur when cancer spreads from the pancreas to the surrounding organs. Pain can also occur when cancer has grown large enough that it’s pressing on the organs or the other nerves of the surrounding organs.

Loss Of Appetite Or Sudden Weight Loss

Lack of appetite and weight loss are common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. They are also observed with other types of cancer.

Nausea And Vomiting

If cancer presses on the stomach, food may not easily pass through the digestive system. Apart from nausea and vomiting, this may cause pain, which tends to worsen after eating. 

Enlarged Liver And Gallbladder

Pancreatic cancer can block the bile duct, causing bile to collect in the gall bladder, making it big. It usually spreads to the liver and can make it enlarged. A doctor may be able to feel the enlarged gall bladder and liver during a physical examination. He or she may also be able to view it on radiology tests. 

Diabetes

Rarely, pancreatic cancer can also cause diabetes, as it kills the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. 

Western Medicine Treatment Options

The first step in treating pancreatic cancer is surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Your doctor may prescribe chemotherapy or radiotherapy before the surgery to reduce the size of the cancer. Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to remove whatever cancer cells may be remaining.

However, both these treatments are very toxic to the body. They tend to harm the normal cells of the body along with the cancer cells. Newer treatments like immunotherapy help a small proportion of patients with pancreatic cancer. These treatments attack only the cancer cells and are less harmful to the normal cells. However, they cause other side effects and toxicities.

How Can TCM Help?

Herbal remedies, including ginseng tea, can help alleviate nausea associated with chemotherapy.

While TCM may not be the primary treatment modality for pancreatic cancer patients, it plays a supportive role in the management by improving the efficacy and reducing the toxicity of Western medicine treatments.

In fact, TCM treatment, even during the later stages of cancer, allows patients to “live with cancer.” Studies have shown that TCM – when administered along with Western medicine – may improve the chances of surviving. 

Detoxification

TCM treatment aims to fight toxicities and enhance the elimination of cancer cells through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It also helps patients cope with side effects.

Herbs like Prunella spike (Prunella vulgaris, Xia Ku Cao), hedyotis (Hedyotis diffusa, Bai Hua She She Cao), barbed skullcap (Scutellaria barbata, Ban Zhi Lian), Cremastrae psudobulbus, (Shan Ci Gu), and white turmeric (Curcuma zsedoaria, E Zhu) help in detoxifying the body.  

Immune Support

TCM remedies like ginseng boost the natural immunity of the body to fight cancer cells. As such, they complement the action of Western medicine therapies. They also help with recovering from surgery and restoring the deficiencies in the body.

Post-Surgery Recovery

TCM remedies containing gooseberry (cu li) and herbs from the ginseng family help improve the blood and qi and increase blood cell counts. This helps enable doctors to continue their Western medicine treatments.

Antrodia Cinnamomea promotes liver health and also promotes vitality and improves immunity. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy also cause inflammation in the mouth and epigastrium. This can be treated with TCM medicines.

Herbs like ginseng, Astragalus (huang qi), Atractylodes macrocephala (bai zhu) and Trametes versicolor (yun zhi) help to tonify the body, reinforcing the vital energy and consolidating the constitution. 

Research shows that products containing Wild Yunzhi Powder may be suitable for patients recovering from chronic diseases. It not only enhances the function of the liver but also the respiratory system and the body’s resistance to diseases.

Palliative Care

In very late or advanced stages, Western medicine may not help patients. Hence, doctors stop treatment or give palliative treatment to improve the patient’s quality of life rather than aiming to cure cancer. In such cases, TCM can help the patient considerably restore body balance, improve energy and vitality, and enhance quality of life.

What Can A TCM Practitioner Do?

A TCM oncology physician is trained to walk with the patients through the whole journey of Western medical treatment. They will individualize treatment for each patient based on the body constitution and syndrome differentiation. They also consider the stage of diagnosis, symptoms, and clinical status of the patients.

Hence, it is important to involve your TCM practitioner in all aspects of your cancer journey. In addition to advising the right supportive TCM therapies, a TCM practitioner will also be able to guide you on ways to prevent the recurrence of cancer after remission. 

Physician Chu I Ta, who specializes in TCM oncology, recommends the “3ERs” for people to fight cancer and maintain health. This includes “Eat Right, Exercise Regularly and get Enough Rest.”  

Final Tips

To maintain the health of the pancreas, physician Chu I Ta advises correcting bad habits, such as smoking and drinking. Avoid or eat less red meat, bacon, grilled and cured meats, cured fish, and pickled vegetables. These foods contain a substance called nitrosamine, which can cause cancer.

Also, reduce the intake of foods rich in fats and high levels of animal proteins. In their place, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Be regular with your treatments and keep a check on your blood sugar levels.

For patients with a family history of cancer, see your doctor for regular medical check-ups and imaging tests, particularly after 40 years of age. Early detection of cancer can improve the survival and prognosis considerably.

For patients who have already undergone treatment for pancreatic cancer, follow up with your physician every 2-3 months. Recurrences are common in pancreatic cancer, but they can be detected and treated early with regular consultations. 

The quality of life we live is more important than the quantity of life destined for us. TCM therapies can work synergistically with western medicine to give us a better and longer life, even with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

 

References

  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging.html
  2. SAGE Journals. Chinese herbal medicine effectively prolongs the overall survival of pancreatic cancer patients: A case series. [online] Available at <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1534735419828836> 
  3. Integrative Cancer Therapies. Complementary herbal Chinese medicine therapy improves survival of patients with pancreatic cancer in Taiwan: A nationwide population-based cohort study. [online] Available at < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041895/
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Pancreatic cancer. [online] Available at < https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15806-pancreatic-cancer> 
  5. American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer. [online] Available at < https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html>  

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