Home > Examination and Diagnosis > Understanding TCM Specialties
Oncology > How Can Chinese Medicine Help Cancer Patients > Chinese Medicines Help Cancer Patients to Cope With Radiotherapy

Chinese Medicines Help Cancer Patients to Cope With Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy works by damaging the structure of cancer cells, disabling them from reproducing and growing so as to make the cancer cells die and the tumor shrink. Applications may vary on the basis of the cancer type, cancer stage and the goal of treatment. Although the high-energy radioactive beams target specific areas of the body, many patients experience discomfort. Usually, patients do not feel anything during radiation treatment; the side effects build up over time and are typically limited to the targeted area.

The general TCM approaches in radiotherapy

In TCM understanding, radiation is a kind of toxic fire or toxic heat evil ; they exhaust the qi (vital energy) and body fluids, disturb the blood and qi production in the spleen and the stomach, and damage the liver and the kidneys. TCM has the following approaches to treat the side effects of radiotherapy:

  • Clearing heat and toxins to prevent inflammatory reactions.
  • Nourishing yin to promote body fluid production and relieve dryness symptoms.
  • Replenishing qi and blood to relieve fever conditions and the associated symptoms like fatigue, palpitation and dizziness.
  • Fortifying liver and kidneys to relieve general weakness, fatigue, depression, low blood counts, palpitation and breath shortness.
  • Invigorating spleen and harmonizing stomach to relieve digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite and diarrhea.

    Glossy privet fruit
    Pilose antler

    Chinese herbs to enhance radiation efficacy

    Before radiation treatment, physicians may use certain herbs to stimulate the area to be irradiated. The herbs are said to work on the site to relieve the contraction of the blood vessels, improve the micro and lateral circulations, inhibit platelet coagulation and regulate the metabolism of connective tissues, in this way, they make the cancer site more susceptible to the radiation and help optimize treatment.

    Side effects associated with brain and neural tissues

    This may involve symptoms like headache, nausea, vomiting and pain. TCM will focus on replenishing the essence and bone marrow, in addition to activating the flow of the meridians. Commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    sheng di

    Fresh rhemannia root

    Radix Rehmanniae

    nu zhen zhi

    Glossy privet fruit

    Fructus Ligustri Lucidi

    bu gu zhi

    Malaytea scurfpea fruit

    Fructus Psoraleae

    xian ling pi


    Herba Epimedii

    lu rong

    Pilose antler

    Cornu Cervi Pantotrichum

    Side effects associated with nasal cavities

    When inflammation occurs leading to symptoms like losing the senses of taste or smell, dizziness, running nose and ear ringing, TCM physicians claim that it should remove blockages of the lung openings and clear heat in the lungs. Commonly used herbs are:

    cang er zi

    Siberian cocklibur fruit

    Fructus Xanthii

    xin yi

    Biond Magnolia flower

    Flos Magnoliae

    bai zhi

    Dahurian Angelica root

    Radix Angelicae Dauhuicae

    shi gao


    Gypsumn Fibrosum

    bo he

    Pepper mint

    Herba Ephedrae

    Siberian cocklibur fruit
    Biond Magnolia flower
    Dahurian Angelica root

    Side effects associated with the neck region

    When ulcers, blood congestion and edema appear on the lining of mouth, gum and throat, they can affect chewing and swallowing functions. TCM will use herbs for clearing heat, nourishing yin and promoting secretions. Commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    tian hua fen

    Snakegourd root

    Radix Trichosanthis

    nan sha shen

    Fourleaf ladybell root

    Radix Adenophorae Strictae

    mai dong

    Dwarf lily-turf

    Radix Ophiopogonis

    lu gen

    Reed rhizome

    Rhizoma Phragmitis

    wu mei

    Smoked plum

    Fructus Mume

    Side effects associated with the lungs

    When the patients have chest tightness, fever, breath shortness, coughing with sputum or blood, TCM physicians will aim to clear the lungs and nourish the yin. Commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    nan sha shen Fourleaf ladybell root Radix Adenophorae Strictae
    xing ren Almond Semen Armeniaca
    bai he Lily bulb Bulbus Lilii
    mai dong Dwarf lily-turf Radix Ophiopogonis
    yuan shen Figwort root Radix Scrophulariae

    Dwarf lily-turf
    Reed rhizome
    Snakegourd root

    Side effects associated with the esophagus

    Patients may have difficulty in swallowing, mouth dryness, pain behind the sternum, or chest pain radiating to the back or shoulder. Physicians will aim at clearing heat and toxins, and also removing the stasis. Commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    pu gong ying Dandelion Herba Taraxaci
    huang qin Baical skullcap root Radix Scutellariae
    su geng Perilla stem Caulis Perillae
    shi jian chuan Chinese sage herb Herba Salviae Chinensis
    san chi Notoginseng Radix Notoginseng

    Baical skullcap root
    Perilla stem

    Side effects associated with the intestines

    When the colon and rectum are affected and there is abdominal pain, diarrhea or blood in the stools, TCM believes that this indicates an accumulation of damp-heat in the region. The therapies will try to clear the damp-heat, cool down the blood, arrest bleeding and stop diarrhea. Commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    di yu Garden burnet root Radix Sanguisorbae
    huai hua Pagoda tree flower Flos Sophorae
    bai tou weng Chinese Pulsatilla root Radix Pulsatillae
    ma chi xian Purslane herb Herba Portulacae
    wu mei Smoked plum Fructus Mume

    Chinese Pulsatilla root
    Garden burnet root
    Pagoda tree flower

    Side effects associated with the bladder

    When the urinary lining is irritated, urinary frequency, pain or bleeding will occur. Physicians will try to clear heat and toxins, cool down the blood, and induce a smooth, pain-free urination. Commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    sheng di Fresh rhemannia root Radix Rehmanniae
    bai mao gen Lalang grass rhizome

    Rhizoma Imperatae

    da ji Japanese Thistle herb Herba Cirsii Japonici
    xiao ji Field Thistle herb Herba Cirsii
    mu tong Akebia stem Caulis Akebiae

    Side effects associated with the skin

    There are herbal creams to prevent skin reactions like redness, dryness or peeling, but certain herbs added to the prescription can have more beneficial results. Common herbal ingredients are:

    dang gui Angelica root Radix Angelicae Sinensis
    shou wu Fleece flower root Radix Polygoni Mulitflori
    shu di Processed rhemannia rhizome Rhizoma Rehmanniae Praeparatae
    di fu zi Belvedere fruit Fructus Kochiae
    dan pi Peony tree root bark Crotex Moutan Radicis

    Peony tree root bark
    Angelica root
    Red peony root