Home > Examination and Diagnosis > Understanding TCM Specialties
Oncology > How Can Chinese Medicine Help Cancer Patients > Chinese Medicines Help Cancer Patients to Endure Surgery

Chinese Medicines Help Cancer Patients to Endure Surgery

Surgery remains as one of the primary forms of cancer treatment. Nearly all cancer patients will have some kind of surgery, whether it is used to perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, provide local treatment, or obtain other information to help determine whether additional treatment is necessary. However, a lengthy healing process is always needed because of the invasiveness of the procedure. Appropriate preparations before and after surgery is the best way to help the process go smoothly. From a TCM perspective, surgery will unavoidably lead to damage by further exhausting blood and qi, and causing internal disharmony as well. TCM tonifying methods help to buildup the body constitution so as to reduce the risks associated with surgery.

Preparation before surgery

Generally, TCM tonifying methods have to start one or two weeks prior to surgery; they aim at improving general physical strength as well as the specific cancer condition so as to help surgeons to cut away the cancerous tissues as much as possible. Patients are usually treated with the classic prescriptions, which are well known for replenishing blood and qi, and nourishing the liver and kidneys. Classic prescriptions include:

  • Four-gentlemen Decoction (si jun zi tang)
  • Four-substance Decoction (si wu tang)
  • Eight-treasure Decoction (ba zhen tang)
  • All-inclusive Great Tonifying Decoction (shi quan da bu tang)
  • Six-ingredient Pill with Rehmannia (liu wei di huang tang)
  • Restore the Spleen Decoction (gui pi tang)

    After surgery, when the patients are allowed to eat, physicians usually focus on various other symptoms and helping the patients to prepare for further radio or chemotherapy.

    Management after surgery

    Regulating spleen and stomach

    Due to anesthesia, bleeding and surgical trauma, the patients' spleen and stomach are always affected. It is common to see symptoms like poor appetite, abdominal distention, constipation, nausea and vomiting. If symptoms are mild, a prescription such as Costus and Amomum with Six Noble Ingredients Decoction (xiang sha liu jun zi tang) is used. If individuals have obvious abdominal distention, constipation, mouth dryness and thick yellow tongue coating, that means there exists qi stagnation and heat accumulated inside the organs. The prescription should also add:

    zhi qiao

    Bitter orange peel

    Fructus Aurantii

    hou po

    Magnolia bark

    Cortex Magnoliae Officinalis

    mu xiang

    Costus root

    Radix Aucklandiae

    da huang

    Chinese rhubarb

    Radix et Rhizoma Rhei

    Bitter orange peel
    Magnolia bark
    Costus root

    In case general weakness is significant, then certain tonifying herbs are added, such as:

    ren shen


    Radix Ginseng

    huang qi


    Radix Astragali

    gan cao

    Liquorice root

    Radix Glycyrrhizae

    ji nei jin

    Chicken's gizzard-skin

    Endothelium Corneum Gigeriae Galli

    chen pi

    Tangerine peel

    Pericarpium citri Reticulatae

    Replenishing qi and consolidating body surface

    For some surgical patients, even simple physical activity (or none at all) can easily induce sweating. TCM considers this a morbid condition due to an exterior deficiency (biao xu) or heart deficiency, which makes the individuals susceptible to infections or sleeping problems. A prescription called Jade Windscreen Powder (yu ping feng san) can be employed, some other commonly used herbal ingredients are:

    huang qi


    Radix Astragali

    bai shao

    White peony root

    Radix Paeoniae Alba

    fang feng

    Ledebouriella root

    Radix Ledebouriellae

    fu xiao mai

    Shriveled wheat

    Fructus Tritici Levis

    tai zhi shen

    Heterophylly Falsestarwort root

    Radix Pseudostellariae

    wu wai zi


    Fructus Schisandrae

    Ledebouriella root
    Heterophylly Falsestarwort root
    Shriveled wheat

    Nourishing yin to promote body fluid production and reconstruction

    When patients suffer from severe mouth dryness, deep red tongue without any coating, dry stool, no appetite or nausea, in TCM, they are suffering from body fluid exhaustion and damage to stomach yin. A higher dose of herbs are prescribed such as:

    nan sha shen

    Fourleaf ladybell root

    Radix Adenophorae Strictae

    bei sha shen

    Coastal Glehnia root

    Radix Glehniae

    mai dong

    Dwarf lily-turf

    Radix Ophiopogonis

    tian hua fen

    Snakegourd root

    Radix Trichosanthis

    yu zhu

    Fragrant Solomonseal rhizome

    Rhizoma Polygonati Odorati

    sheng di

    Rhemannia rhizome

    Rhizoma Rehmanniae

    Fourleaf ladybell root
    Coastal Glehnia root
    Fragrant Solomonseal rhizome

    Long-term rehabilitation with Chinese medicines

    Thereafter, for long-term rehabilitation, TCM tonifying methods should be used with some expelling methods like anti-cancer herbs as mentioned previously. For example, lung cancer associated with yin deficiency should mainly enrich the yin and moisten the lungs; however, when it is associated with phlegm and dampness retention, it should also disperse phlegm to soften lumps. In general, tonifying methods like enhancing the spleen and harmonizing the stomach are used for digestive tumors; soothing the liver and regulate the qi is used in breast cancers. These methods help to prevent the recurrence of cancer at a later date.