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Cancer Therapy: Chinese Medicine and Biomodulation in Cancer Patients

Stephen M Sagar, Raimond K Wong



Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a whole system containing therapeutic interventions, which individually induce biomodulation at the physiological, chemical and molecular levels. The theory of TCM proposes a synergy between specific interventions planned as part of a care plan based on TCM diagnostic theory. Combining TCM with the modern practice of oncology, in conjunction with biomedical interventions (surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and pharmaceuticals), seems to have potential advantages through the synergy of biomodulation. The approaches are broadly categorized as modification of tumour response and reduction of adverse effects; modulation of immunity; prevention of cancer progression; and enhancement of symptom control. Although there is a rapidly increasing database of preclinical studies, there is a notable paucity of good quality clinical trials. Laboratory studies suggest that some herbs increase the effectiveness of conventional chemotherapy without increasing toxicity. The healthy immune system is necessary for the control of malignant disease and the immune suppression associated with cancer contributes to its progression. Many Chinese herbs contain glycoproteins and polysaccharides that canmodulate metastatic potential and the innate immune system (these include constituents of Coriolus versicolor, Ganoderma lucidum, Grifolafrondosa, Astragalus membranaceus, Panax ginseng, and various other medicinal mushrooms). Phytochemicals, such as specific polysaccharides, have been shown to boost the innate immune system, especially through interaction with Toll-like receptors (TLRs) in Mucosa Associated Lymphoid Tissue (MALT). This intervention can potentially improve the effectiveness of new anti-cancer vaccines. An increase in virus-associated cancers presents a major public health problem that requires novel therapeutic strategies. A number of herbal therapies haveboth anti-viral activity and the ability to promote immunity that can inhibit the initiation and promotion of virus associated cancers. The mechanisms learned from basic science should be applied to clinical trials of both specific interventions and whole system care plans that safely combine the TCM approach with the conventional biomedical model. In Western medicine, the combination of TCM herbs with drug therapies is controversial, since there is a lack of knowledge of whether the drug is favourably enhanced or whether adverse effects occur. Future clinical research needs to evaluate the combinations using initial data from the preclinical studies, some of which are reporting favourable synergy.

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