Traditional Chinese medicine

What is it?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based on using the connection between mind, body and environment to prevent and manage diseases, such as cancer. TCM practitioners consider the person’s overall condition, not just the symptoms.

It may help people with cancer strengthen their vital force (qi) and cope with the side effects of conventional treatment. TCM includes acupuncture, tai chi, qi gong and the use of foods and herbs to improve health.

What to expect?

A TCM practitioner will take a case history and may do a physical examination, including looking at your tongue and taking your pulse (tongue and pulse analysis), to work out the flow of energy and imbalances in your body. Treatment may include one or more of the therapies listed above.

What is the evidence?

There is clinical evidence for the benefits of some aspects of TCM for people with cancer, while for other aspects the evidence is limited. See acupuncture, tai chi, qi gong and Chinese herbal medicine for further information.

Beliefs behind TCM

According to Chinese medicine and other medical systems from Asia, everyone has a vital energy or vital force known as qi (pronounced ‘chee’). Qi is said to flow through the body along pathways called meridians.

People who use TCM believe that if the flow of qi becomes unbalanced, this can lead to physical and emotional disease or discomfort.

Qi is made up of two opposite and complementary factors known as Yin and Yang. In TCM, the belief is that there is Yin and Yang in everything. Yin is represented by water and Yang by fire. The balance of the two maintains harmony in your body, mind and the universe.

TCM also uses the theory of five elements – fire, earth, metal, water and wood – to explain how the body works. These elements correspond to particular organs and tissues in the body.

This information was last reviewed in May 2015
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