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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Lim Sock Ling and Dr Angelica L Dumapit on August 2, 2022

Breast Cancer Wellness Tips To Help You Feel Your Best

TCM can help reduce your symptoms if you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. It can even make your current treatment more effective. Here's how.

Breast cancer support min scaled

Breast cancer affects an alarming number of Americans. In fact, research shows that 1 in every 8 U.S. women will develop the condition in her lifetime.

Treatment options are promising. Despite this, an estimated 43,250 American women are still expected to die from breast cancer in 2022 alone.

This guide provides thoughtful wellness tips for reducing symptoms and enhancing your breast cancer treatment.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer refers to a tumor that develops in breast cells. It usually starts in the ducts (the passageway that drains milk from the lobules to the nipple) or lobules (the glands that produce milk).

Sometimes, breast cancer can start in the stromal tissues, which are the breast’s connective tissues.

Symptoms

A lump or any changes to your breast may be a sign of cancer.

Common symptoms of breast cancer are listed below. Be sure to consult your doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • A lump in your breast or underarm that doesn’t go away. This is often the first symptom. Your doctor can usually see a lump on a mammogram long before you can see or feel it. 
  • Swelling in your armpit or near your collarbone. This could mean breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes in that area. Swelling may start before you feel a lump, so let your doctor know if you notice it. 
  • Pain and tenderness, although lumps don’t usually hurt. Some may cause a prickly feeling. 
  • A flat or indented area on your breast. This could occur due to a tumor that you can’t see or feel. 
  • Breast changes, such as a difference in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of your breast. 
  • Changes in your nipple, like one that pulls inward, is dimpled, burns, itches, or develops sores.
  • Unusual nipple discharge. It could be clear, bloody, or another color. 
  • A marble-like area under your skin that feels different from any other part of either breast.

Causes

According to Western medicine, most breast cancer (85 to 90%) is due to genetic conditions that occur due to aging and other environmental factors, rather than inherited mutations. However, only about 5 to 10% is due to genetic abnormalities inherited from your parents.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, the nipple is associated with the Liver for both males and females.

According to TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling, “The breast is associated with the Kidney for males and the gastric system for females. When the Liver Qi circulation is stagnant, disharmony arises in the Chong and Ren meridians, causing Blood Stasis to form in the meridians within the breast.”  

Modern clinical studies have shown that most blood metastases in breast cancer patients are accompanied by blood hypercoagulability.

Hence, Blood Stasis Syndrome is one of the important pathogenesis of breast tumor formation and development.

How Can TCM Help With Breast Cancer?

TCM emphasizes nourishing and easing the Liver to remove blood stasis, which is an important pathogenesis of breast tumor formation and development.

Physician Lim stated, “The herbal formula Tao Hong Si Wu Tang has been shown to activate blood and remove blood stasis. It can inhibit breast cancer metastasis and has clinical value. However, there is little relevant research on Tao Hong Si Wu Tang in the treatment of breast cancer.” 

TCM and chemotherapy

Early detection is crucial in your breast cancer journey.

TCM combined with chemotherapy can reduce the incidence of severe myelosuppression. According to one study, it works better than using chemotherapy alone and leads to better scores on several measures, including the effective rate of objective curative effect and the effective rate of physical status score.

Before chemotherapy or surgery, the emphasis is on removing toxins and improving immunity. Ji Xue Teng is a commonly used herb. It has anti-cancer properties and can decrease white blood cells that arise from chemotherapy.

Other ingredients and formulas used include:

  • Bai Hua She She Cao
  • Teng Li Gen
  • Shi Jian Chuan
  • Bai Zhu
  • Shan Zha
  • Li Zhi He
  • Pu Gong Ying
  • Shan Ci Gu
  • E Zhu
  • Chen Pi  

After chemotherapy, the patient is usually very weak. The treatment then focuses on improving the Qi and Blood while continuing to fight cancer.

Consider incorporating the following ingredients in your diet:

  • Ji Xue Teng
  • Dang Gui
  • Nv Zhen Zi
  • Dang Shen
  • Gu Ya
  • Black beans

To promote Liver Qi circulation, you can use Chai Hu, Xiang Fu, Qing Pi, Ju He, Li Zhi He, Gua Lou, and Si Gua Luo.

TCM as a complementary treatment for breast cancer

TCM has also been used as a complementary approach to primary treatment. These modalities include Chinese herbs, acupuncture, Qigong, Tai Chi, and diet therapy.

According to one study, people who used TCM as part of their breast cancer treatment reported increased coping mechanisms. They had better stress relief, reduced side effects from standard treatments, a better desire to be proactive in their treatment journey, and a better sense of control over their disease.

They also reported reduced physical and psychological effects, such as fatigue, hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, pain, lymphodema, depression, and weight changes.

Acupuncture treatment

Acupuncture can help reduce some of the side effects of breast cancer treatments, such as nausea, pain, and hot flashes.

One study found that women who received acupuncture had significantly fewer nausea and vomiting episodes than those who did not. To reduce nausea, you can stimulate the Nei Guan (PC6) acupoint.

Another study found that acupuncture reduced joint pain and other cancer-related pain scores in women with breast cancer who were being treated with aromatase inhibitors.

Another study found that patients treated with acupuncture had a 36% reduction in pain after 2 months of acupuncture treatments, compared with a 2% reduction in pain in patients receiving a placebo type of acupuncture.

To alleviate joint pain, stimulate the acupoints Wai Guan (TE5), Zu Lin Qi (GB41), Yang Ling Quan (GB34), He Gu (LI4), Tai Xi (KI3), as well as localized acupoints in the affected joint.

Another study found that acupuncture may reduce hot flashes by half. However, more studies are needed. The acupoint San Yin Jiao (SP6) is commonly used to nourish Yin and manage hot flashes. 

Can TCM Help Prevent Breast Cancer?

In TCM, disharmony or imbalance within the body is believed to be the source of illness. Therefore, to prevent breast cancer, TCM physicians target the root cause of the problem (such as Liver Qi Stagnation) by ensuring that the Liver Qi circulation is smooth.

According to Physician Lim, “This can be achieved by learning how to relieve stress, doing breathing exercises, and eating foods that are sour and sweet in taste to benefit the Liver Yin and Qi circulation. You can also use herbs such as Bai Shao, Ji Xue Teng, Chai Hu, Xiang Fu, Qing Pi, Ju He, Li Zhi He, Gua Lou, and Si Gua Luo in diet therapy to ease the Liver.” 

Physician Lim shares the following herbs with anti-tumor properties:

  • Panax notoginseng (San Qi): This herb significantly inhibits the metastasis of breast cancer cells. It also inhibits the invasion and metastasis of colorectal cancer cells amongst its effect on other types of cancer cells. 
  • Ban Zhi Lian: This herb’s anticancer effect is enhanced when used with Bai Hua She She Cao. It mainly targets digestive tract cancers, gynecological cancers, lung cancer, and bladder cancer.
  • Dan Shen: It’s used in cancer patients to remove blood stasis. 
  • Angelica Sinesis (Dang Gui): Angelica Sinese is often used for gynecological cancers to help remove Blood Stasis. However, as it may act like estrogen, it’s not suitable for hormone-sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids. Be sure to consult with a doctor before taking this herb.
  • Ganoderma Lucidum (Lingzhi): A medicinal mushroom found to reduce the number of breast cancer stem cells by downregulating pathways to inhibit the invasion ability of cancer cells. 

TCM Compliments Western Medicine Treatment

TCM works hand in hand with Western medicine and aims to support the patient in their chemotherapy or radiation therapy journey.

However, Physician Lim cautions, “Do not stop Western medicine by yourself as TCM is used as a complementary approach. We usually advise patients not to consume Chinese herbs on the day of chemotherapy.”

Similar to other conditions, consult a registered TCM physician to ascertain your body constitution and syndrome so that the most appropriate herbs and therapy can be prescribed for you. In addition, those with bleeding disorders should undergo acupuncture with caution.

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