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Complementary Corner

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Breast Cancer Treatment

Renee Lehman

(10/2014) It is now October, also known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, according to the American Cancer Society. Current statistics show that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Why is early detection of breast cancer still considered a woman's best option? Shifting the focus away from early detection and toward preventing breast cancer was the topic of my March 2014 article: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Breast Health.

This month’s article will review how TCM understands breast cancer, and address how TCM can help in your healing during breast cancer treatment. Many of the ideas and suggestions, shared below, are taken from the website:

Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Understanding of Breast Cancer

For thousands of years, TCM has understood and treated the condition we in our modern culture call breast cancer. TCM (the longest continuously practiced form of healthcare in the world) is focused on prevention and wellness (see previous articles on TCM). There is an often quoted saying in The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, The Nei Jing, (1000 BCE): "To fight a disease after it has occurred is like trying to dig a well when one is thirsty or forging a weapon once a war has begun."

TCM views all disease from an energetic level (deals with your energy or Qi, pronounced "chee"). Basically, all disease is considered to be stuck or out of balance energy (Qi). Because of this viewpoint of all disease, including breast cancer, TCM understands that there are invisible energetic issues that have a tremendous impact on a woman’s health and that underlies breast cancer. TCM can recognize and address the early warning signs before they manifest in the body as breast cancer. TCM can give hope to women, and help them to understand their own body, because it can be used to teach a woman to observe her body/mind/spirit and understand when her health and life is becoming unbalanced. Everything in your life – body/mind/spirit, can influence your body’s energy system; therefore, affect everything about your state of health.

So, how can TCM practices help you heal during treatment for breast cancer?

Foods to Avoid During Treatment

According to TCM principles, there are certain types of foods to avoid during breast cancer treatment: 1) Charred and deep-fried foods. Why? Because these types of foods create a condition called "internal heat" which will negatively affect your digestion (plus, chemotherapy and radiation already create excess heat within the body). 2) Raw vegetables. Why? Because they take more energy (Qi) to digest than cooked vegetables. You want your Qi to go toward healing and not digestion, right? 3) Cold or iced foods and beverages. Why? Because the Stomach will have to use extra Qi to warm up these foods, thus, possibly unbalancing your digestive system.

Foods to Help With Surgery

Surgery can often cause a person to lose a lot of blood and Qi, which must be replaced. To properly prepare for breast cancer surgery (or any surgery), TCM recommends eating as much spinach and red beets as you can for at least two weeks before the operation. These foods can help increase blood volume. Also, the following foods can help to strengthen your Qi reserves: seafood, especially shrimp, lobster, clams, oysters, and mussels.

Foods to Help With Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatments

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments take a tremendous toll on the body’s Qi. The digestive system is one of the most vulnerable places. That’s why patients often experience nausea, appetite loss, and Qi deficiency (weakness). Your Qi reserves (just think of your Qi Bank Account being depleted of funds) is another area hit hard by these treatments. This can cause hair loss, bone aches, chills, diarrhea, joint pain, and fatigue.

During chemotherapy and radiation treatments, eating for energy means choosing foods that support digestive system and your "Qi Bank Account." While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, TCM recommends eating mostly fresh fruit and lightly cooked vegetables, especially: pears, almonds, kiwis, dandelion greens, and carrots. Yes, these foods provide beneficial nutrients, AND even more importantly, they help with your healing by helping to detoxify the body and cool the excess heat caused by these treatments.

According to TCM, foods that support your Stomach (digestive) function are sugarcane juice, lotus seeds, Chinese barley (also known as Job’s Tears), and Chinese red dates. Foods that support your "Qi Bank Account" include clams, mussels, oysters, lobster, and any bone broth soups.

Healing Recipes

Tea for nausea (due to chemotherapy or radiation treatment): 4 pieces of ginger, 1 tsp. brown sugar or honey, 1 orange peel, 1 handful of dried rose petals, 1 pinch of rosemary, 1 pinch of cinnamon. Place all ingredients in a pot with 2 quarts hot water. Let the tea steep. Drink hot, 2xs/day while the nausea is present.

Skin salve (to soothe skin irritation due to radiation treatment): Dandelion greens, 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Place dandelion greens in a bowl and smash them to a pulp. Add a little bit of olive oil and mix. Apply to the skin irritation every day.

To learn more information about the TCM approach to breast cancer prevention, and healing from breast cancer with TCM visit and

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist and physical therapist with over 25 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg. She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman