East meets west: can TCM and western medicine ‘team up’ to beat lung cancer?
Western medicine relies heavily on the use of modern drugs, which are often synthetic and cause undesirable side effects. On the other hand, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) makes use of medicinal plants and natural healing practices to address minor ailments or serious illnesses. Due to growing interest in and the resurgence of TCM use, researchers are now exploring the possibility of combining both types of medicine to provide better treatment options for patients with serious diseases. In a recent study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers from Chang Gung University in Taiwan compared the long-term effect of Western medicine and the combination of TCM and Western medicine on the prognosis of patients with lung cancer. They reported that the combined treatment not only resulted in better survival rates, it also improved the patients’ physical function.
The combination of TCM and Western medicine proves effective against lung cancer
Lung cancer is one of the most common and deadliest types of cancer. In fact, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, around 13 percent of new cancer cases reported each year turn out to be lung cancer.
For their longitudinal study, the researchers recruited a total of 84 patients: 54 were newly diagnosed with lung cancer and receiving Western medicine as treatment, while the remaining 30 used a combination of TCM and Western medicine.
The researchers measured outcomes such as symptom distress, physical function, and quality of life using the Symptom Distress Scale, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group-Performance Status Rating, and European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaires (EORTC QLQ-C30 and EORTC QLQ-LC13), respectively.
They collected data before treatment and one, three, six, and 12 months after the start of treatment. They also estimated patient survival using Kaplan-Meier curves and analyzed group differences in outcomes using generalized estimating equations.
The researchers reported that, apart from pain and dyspnea, the treatment groups did not differ significantly at baseline in terms of demographic information, disease severity, symptom distress, or questionnaire scores. After adjusting for baseline effects, they found that the TCM + Western medicine group had better results for physical function and role function than the Western medicine group six months after the start of treatment.
In addition, the combined treatment group also had better cumulative survival rates than the group that received only Western medicine.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that treatment with TCM and Western medicine combined has better long-term effects for lung cancer patients, although comprehensive studies are needed to precisely estimate the long-term effectiveness of this combined treatment on patient prognosis.
Cancer treatments used in TCM and Western medicine
Treatment for lung cancer varies depending on the type and the extent of cancer metastasis. Patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) typically have more treatment options than small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients, who usually receive radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
On the other hand, herbal medicines are often used as adjunct medications to improve treatment outcomes and alleviate the side effects of conventional cancer therapies. Common TCM herbs used to treat lung cancer, particularly NSCLC, are:
- Astragalus root (huang qi, Astragalus propinquus)
- American silvertop root (nan sha shen, Glehnia littoralis)
- Asparagus root (tian men dong, Asparagus cochinchinensis)
- Licorice root (gan cao, Glycyrrhiza uralensis)
- Poria mushroom (fu ling, Poria cocos)
- Wild hedyotis (bai hua she she cao, Oldenlandia diffusa)
TCM herbs are not only capable of relieving pain and improving the quality of life of cancer patients, but they are also great sources of powerful compounds that possess anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-tumor, anti-metastatic, and antioxidant properties. These make them excellent adjuncts to modern medicine and powerful remedies for minor ailments.