SCM clinical study finds herbal medicines combined with acupuncture effective in treating chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy

5 November 2019


The fundamental differences between Chinese and Western medicine in terms of their pathological concepts and therapeutic approaches have led some cancer patients to believe that combining the two together could do them more harm than good.  Some would only turn to Chinese medicine as their last resort when the conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, electrotherapy and targeted therapy, ceased to be effective.

However, according to Dr. Liu Yulong, Principal Lecturer of the Clinical Division of SCM, Chinese medicine can play a complementary role in cancer treatment and the management of its side effects if applied timely and correctly.  In fact, a nine-year clinical observation completed by Dr. Liu just last year showed that Chinese herbal medicines used in combination with acupuncture could help relieve symptoms of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, including symmetrical numbness or pain in fingers and toes, among others.

The clinical study, which was conducted at the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society - HKBU Chinese Medicine Centre, analysed 128 cases of patients aged 18-75 years who were experiencing peripheral neurosensory disturbances after four to six weeks of standard chemotherapy for colorectal cancer or other cancer treatments.  Upon a three-month course of twice-weekly acupuncture combined with a daily dose of Chinese herbal medicines (for internal use; and hand and foot baths), 79% of the patients (i.e. 101 cases) showed improvement in symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and 25 of them even reported significant improvement.  For cases with no effect, all the patients had reached grade III peripheral neuropathy, which means they were already suffering from intolerable sensory abnormalities or significant mobility impairment at the time of the Chinese medicine treatment.

“Combining Chinese herbal medicine with acupuncture is more effective in treating the initial peripheral neurotoxicity caused by paclitaxel and oxaliplatin than other chemotherapy drugs. The earlier the treatment begins, the better the outcome,” Dr. Liu said.

In recent years, various studies have pointed out that the integrated use of Chinese and Western medicine has shown remarkable results in cancer treatment.  In addition to alleviating symptoms of cancer and reducing side effects of Western medicines, Chinese medicine is highly effective in boosting patients’ immune systems to enable timely completion of their Western medical treatments and to improve their quality of life.