Gabrielle Mathieu is a Licensed Acupuncturist,
with a graduate degree in Oriental Medicine.She has an
undergraduate degree in medical technology and worked
in hospitals as a lab technician for 12 years before coming
to Oriental Medicine.She integrates both medicines in
her Austin Texas practice.
Western medicine interventions
on cancer take three general forms: surgery, chemotherapy,
and radiation. In this article, the first of four about
cancer and Traditional Chinese Medicine, I will be discussing
the challenges of surgery.
Although the treatment scenarios I present are typical of cancer
patients, they can be applied to other types of surgeries as well,
and people other than cancer patients can benefit from treatment.
When a patient's cancer is discovered early, the first suggested
therapy often will be surgery. The doctors want to remove the
tumor as soon as possible. In many cases, a diagnosis of cancer
must wait until the surgery, after which the tissue can be examined.
Looking at the composition of the removed tumor will also yield
additional information about the aggressiveness of the cancer,
when the pathology report is complete. The doctor will then recommend
about any additional treatment, such as chemotherapy or further
The site of surgery, of course, depends on the location of the
suspected or known cancer. Chinese medicine is an underutilized
part of the recovery process. It would not occur to many patients
to seek additional help for some of the situations that can come
up. Although I have not applied acupuncture to every situation
I describe, there are cases in literature and anecdotal evidence
for many of the treatments.
Acupuncture and Post-surgical Nausea
Immediately after the surgery, an acupuncture point called Pericardium
6 has been proved in clinical trails to be helpful in the treatment
of surgically related nausea and vomiting. If the patient is still
hospitalized, she may want to just have a friend or family member
press on the point, as it might be difficult to get an acupuncture
visit in the hospital. The point is located between the two tendons
on the inside of either wrist. Take the other hand and measure
the breadth of three of the fingers from the crease of the wrist
towards the elbow. A slight hollow or depression corresponds to
Moxa and Urinary Retention
Urinary retention can be another problem after surgery. If the
patient is on bed rest, the acupuncturist may be able to stop
by for a short visit, to see if using a device called a Tiger
Warmer could be helpful. The Tiger Warmer, which encases a stick
of burning herb called moxa, provides gentle pressure and warmth
on a vertical line between the navel and pelvic bone to encourage
urination. (A moxa stick can also be used without a Tiger Warmer).
A family member or friend can be trained to do this. The important
acupuncture points stimulated along the vertical line are known
as Ren 3 and Ren 4. Ren 3 has a direct connection with the bladder.
This procedure should be avoided if the operation involved abdominal
incisions that will be near the area stimulated.
Low Blood Pressure
Another problem that can be encountered post-surgery is low blood
pressure. After the administration of strong pain-killers or sedatives,
patients might have low blood pressure and dizziness. The dizziness
may also cause nausea. A protocol described by Kiiko Matsumoto
which might be used by Japanese style acupuncturists uses points
from the Pericardium meridian, also known as the Heart Protector
meridian, and the Spleen meridian to help normalize blood pressure.
Other practitioners may elect to use a point at the crown of the
head. Herbal tonics are often useful as well, although the effect
will not be immediate.
Scars from Surgery
Scars from operations can interfere with body functions, even
those that might seem unrelated. To understand why this is so,
let us explore the concept of meridian theory.
A simple explanation, although one that doesn't do justice conceptually,
is that meridians are like pathways which transmit information.
The meridians arise in organs which govern groups of related functions.
These organs don't correlate exactly to Western medical organs,
although they bear the same names. Certain meridians that have
to do with important body functions such as digestion, (Spleen)
the storage and movement of blood, (Liver) and the removal of
wastes (Kidney) travel through most of the ventral (front) part
of the body. When an incision is made across the flow of information,
it results in subtle alteration of the transmission of energetic
information. Therefore scars, especially abdominal scars, can
create problems. On a physiological, rather than energetic level,
improperly healed scars cause adhesions, and restriction of blood
flow, which can result in compression of various organs or nerves.
After the operation, while the scar tissue is forming, a practitioner
can use distal points (points closer to the hands or feet) on
the meridian to keep the meridian functioning properly. For example,
let us say that an abdominal scar traverses the Spleen meridian.
While the abdominal area would not be treated after the operation,
the points on the shin and knee, which are also part of the Spleen
meridian, could be treated. The practitioner can also calm inflammatory
reactions by using special points, called Metal and Water points,
to reduce inflammation.
Incisions from major operations may take 1 to 3 months to go
through the process of scar formation. While the scar as healing,
after you have been approved to take showers, the acupuncturist
may recommend a liniment. Certain liniments contain herbs that
move blood and encourage local circulation. Once the scar is completely
formed, your acupuncturist may decide to treat it directly, in
addition to treating the distal points on the meridians. Scars
that are unusually thick, or reddened and raised, indicate a local
disturbance in the tissue. Numbness or pain are other another
indications for treatment. The scar can be treated by the indirect
application of moxa, as well as by direct needling.
Another disturbance that can arise from cancer surgery is lymphedema,
a swelling of the arm or leg, subsequent to the removal of lymph
nodes. Women with breast cancer have these lymph nodes checked
in many cases. Lymph nodes are removed for examination when the
doctor suspects cancer may have spread. Doctors believe that lymphedema
is more likely to occur if the affected side is disturbed by pressure
or an incision, and the patient is instructed to avoid blood pressure
cuffs and blood draws in that area. In most cases, that means
no acupuncture needles as well, If the arm becomes swollen despite
precautions, there are useful points in other areas which can
be needled to restore lymphatic circulation, such as the back
of the shoulder. Light application of an Asian bodywork technique,
such as Shiatsu, can also be helpful. Massage that uses vigorous
rubbing and kneading should be avoided, unless the therapist has
received specific instructions on how to do lymphedema massage.
If the patient has healed from surgery, she may also be instructed
on how to do some gentle exercises, such as Qi Gong, to restore
energy into the circulation.
For many cancer patients, surgery is just the first step in treatment.
In the next article, I will be discussing chemotherapy and Traditional
Chinese Medicine's role in treating side effects.