The Herbalist’s Corner
Jake Paul Fratkin
Tai Lahans has made a significant contribution with the publication of her book, Integrating Conventional And Chinese Medicine In Cancer Care, A Clinical Guide (Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2007). To date, her book is the most comprehensive clinical manual on this subject in the English language, giving details regarding not only the Chinese medicine approach, but also an in-depth understanding of how conventional oncology addresses common cancers, and how the two therapies can be combined for the benefit of the patient.
Her expertise cannot be underestimated. Lahans has spent several years studying the combined Chinese and conventional medical approach in the oncology departments of major TCM hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou. With literacy in Chinese, Lahans seeks out experts throughout China, and diligently reviews Chinese scientific research validating the efficacy of Chinese herbs and formulas. Practicing in Seattle, she is a Chinese medicine cancer specialist. She was chosen Faculty of the Year at Bastyr University in 1998, and in 2003 was included in Seattle Magazine’s “Top Docs”. She has worked to promote the use of Chinese herbal medicine to conventional medical oncologists, and has made inroads to numerous hospitals. This is due, in part, to her respect for and knowledge of modern scientific research, not only in Chinese herbal medicine for cancer, but within conventional therapeutics as well.
Lahans’ book is thorough. Covering both conventional and Chinese medical aspects, she begins with a general overview of pathophysiology and treatment, and concludes with several good chapters entitled Death and Dying, and Prevention. Her chapter, Concurrent Issues, addresses how to use Chinese medicine to treat the side effects of Western therapy, including anemia, fever, bone marrow suppression, nausea, oral sores, and organ toxicity that affects the liver, pancreas, heart, kidney or skin.
This book goes into depth regarding the most common solid tumor cancers seen in western clinical practice: lung, colon, breast, prostate, uterine/cervical, ovarian, bladder/kidney, pancreatic/liver, and also lymphoma and leukemia cancers. Each chapter on a cancer type summarizes risk factors, epidemiology, biology, pathology, clinical presentation, current screening tools, staging, clinical evaluation, prognostic factors and current applications within conventional treatment. She then gives a detailed Chinese medicine approach distinguishing pattern differentiations with appropriate signs, symptoms and treatment principles.
For each differentiation, Lahans offers a specific herbal formula, based on the experience of China’s most expert TCM oncologists, and she gives the rationale for the inclusion of each herb and the combined effects. In each chapter she provides, when applicable, a pre-surgery formula, a post-operative formula, and a formula for use during radiation, as well as a prevention formula for maintenance and prevention of recurrence. One can only admire and respect the thoroughness of this text.
Integrating Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine: China’s Experience. Since 1960, the Chinese government has encouraged TCM doctors to integrate their therapies with Western medicine in the treatment of cancer. It essentially created a hybrid between classical TCM theory and modern medicine. In this model, which Lahans calls “modern Chinese medicine”, the use of scientific research is used to validate properties and effectiveness of Chinese herbs, formulas and new methods of delivery, such as direct IV injection of specially processed herbal extractions. Clinical research has shown that the combined approach is more effective than either modality utilized separately. It is being applied in TCM hospital oncology departments throughout China.
Ideas specific to classical Chinese medicine are finding their way into this modern approach. For example, the idea of using blood-cracking or blood-moving herbs to prevent metastatic spread of cancer is being confirmed by scientific research. The herb dan shen (Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae), a blood cracking herb, can move blood into dense tumors. It can increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation by supplying highly oxygenated blood carrying chemotherapeutic agents into the interior of tumors.
Chinese herbs are applied to cancer in several ways: to potentiate the effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiation; to offset the side effects of Western therapy; to enhance the body’s immunity and resistance so as to fight cancer and recover more quickly; and to attack cancer and processes that encourage cancer growth directly.
Using the treatment of chemotherapy side effects as an example, Chinese herbs can counter side effects such as nausea, poor appetite and myelosuppression. The method by which side effects are treated include herbs that build zheng qi; the process of treating side effects also builds the patient’s immunity and resistance and can independently fight the cancer process directly. Of great importance is the discovery that Chinese herbs can enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy and allow the patient to withstand higher doses than normal.
It is well known that chemotherapy not only destroys fast-growing cancer cells, but also attacks healthy fast-growing tissue such as the mucosal lining of the digestive tract and red and white blood cells. This leads to weight loss, malnourishment, extreme fatigue and infection. The ability of Chinese herbs to counter chemo side effects can, in fact, increase blood cell production, digestive absorption and reduce organ toxicities. This allows the patient to recover more quickly.
The Chinese Medicine Approach to Cancer. In the classical sense, according to wen bing xue, underlying yin deficiency and spleen deficiency from dietary and lifestyle imbalances “act as magnets for latent pathogenic factors and help them sink more deeply into the body”. These latent and long-term factors include environmental poisons as well as heat toxins in the form of chronic viral infections.
The Chinese medicine approach to cancer includes treatment of the pattern diagnosis, and the main therapeutic strategies should take into account the following: regulation of qi and harmonizing of blood; maintaining unobstructed flow in the channels and collaterals; transforming phlegm and draining dampness; softening the hard and dissolving nodules; dissolving toxins and stopping pain; tonifying qi and nourishing blood; benefiting the spleen and calming the stomach; replenishing and tonifying the liver and kidneys.
These are done on a case-by-case basis, either by adjusting recommended traditional formulas with specific herbs or concentrating on modern formulas designed for the various stages and issues of a particular cancer. In active stages of cancer, clearing heat and toxin should always be addressed, as well as dissipating masses by using blood and phlegm cracking herbs that are specific to that cancer. Lahans cites specific treatment strategies that are employed in the treatment of cancer.
1) fu zheng qu xie, “Boost zheng qi, dispel pathogenic factor”. This means enhancing the body’s immune mechanisms (strengthen body’s resistance), and supporting metabolism. It also means protecting organ function and treating the spirit of the patient.
2) huo xue qu yu, “Invigorate blood, dispel stasis” to reduce metastatic spread and allow better circulation of chemotherapies and radiation.
3) qing re jie du, “Clear heat, resolve toxin.” These herbs slow or prevent mutation of DNA by heat toxins, which include chemicals, viruses, and other pathogens.
4) ruan jian san jie, “Soften hardness, dissipate nodules”. Tumors are seen as a combination of blood and phlegm stasis. Phlegm resolving with salty herbs increases dynamic flow of fluid and chemotherapies into the tumor mass. Many of these herbs are also antineoplastic, and improve immunity.
5) yi du gong du, “ use poison (to) attack poison”, that is, use a poison to combat cancer. These include herbal cytotoxic therapies. Many of the “anticancer” herbs used in China follow this approach, but few of these herbs can be found in the United States.
In terms of secondary prevention, Lahans recommends close TCM follow-up for two years following the conclusion of Western interventions. This is a critical period when recurrence occurs most often. Following the practice she observed in China, herbal doses are given at 2 to 4 times or more a normal dose. In her practice, she uses granules, and gives between 18 and 36 grams as a daily dosage.
Integrating Conventional And Chinese Medicine In Cancer Care, A Clinical Guide is a deep and thoughtful book, carefully crafted for clinical use. All practitioners offering Chinese herbal medicine to cancer patients are well advised to not only add this book to their bookshelf, but to take the time to study and utilize it for the benefit of their patients. Adding Chinese herbal medicine to conventional therapy offers a significant improvement in survival rates, reduction of side effects, and improvement of one’s sense of wellbeing and vitality.
JAKE PAUL FRATKIN, OMD, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., Dipl. CH (NCCAOM) is the author of Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines, The Clinical Desk Reference (Shya Publications, 2001), and the editor of Wu and Fischer’s Practical Therapeutics Of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Paradigm Publications, 1997). He was awarded Acupuncturist Of The Year in 1999 by the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM), and Teacher Of The Year, 2006, American Association of Teachers of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AATAOM).
© Copyright 2010 Jake Paul Fratkin. All Rights Reserved.