Traditional Chinese Medicine and CancerMany cancer patients including those with lung cancer use alternative or complimentary therapies. Alternative therapies are defined as treatments that are not used by conventional physicians and can include: vitamin and herbal therapies, Traditional Chinese Medicine, mind-body medicine, and anti-cancer diets. Complimentary or “integrative” therapies are defined as using alternative approaches in combination with conventional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

Alternative approaches to treating lung cancer are a mixed bag that contains some therapies with a sound scientific basis (like intravenous Vitamin C), a long historic tradition (like Traditional Chinese Medicine) and others that are complete nonsense. However, anecdotal information (undocumented reports from other patients) suggests that treatments that can boost one’s immune system may provide better quality of life and perhaps extend life in some patients. In fact, it is biologically feasible that the immune system can help the body deal with invading carcinogens such as those from tobacco or asbestos.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

With a history stretching back 4,000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has formed a unique system to diagnose and cure illness. It is comprised of a philosophy about illness that is different than Western Medicine and has a vast armament of herbs, mushrooms, and other plants for specific diseases. Here are just a few examples of studies from the medical/scientific literature that have looked at the effect of some TCM on lung cancer.

Ganoderma lucidum

Ganoderma lucidum, called Reishi in Japan is a mushroom that enjoys special veneration in Asia. It has been called the “King of Herbs” and been used in TCM for more than 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used in medicine. Ganoderma lucidum is the only known source of a group of triterpenes, known as ganoderic acids. In December 2006 a study was published in the journal Life Science in which Ganoderic Acid T (GA-T – one type of ganoderic acid) was tested on human lung cancer cells. The researchers stated that GA-T “markedly inhibited the proliferation of a highly metastatic lung cancer cell line …” (1)

Selaginella tamariscina

Selaginella tamariscina (ST) is a traditional medicinal plant for treatment of advanced cancer in the Orient. Researchers at the Chung Shan Medical University studied its effect in lung cancer cells in vivo and in vitro and found that it inhibited growth and metastasis. (2)


Nan-Chai-Hu, the root of Bupleurum scorzonerifolium, is a traditional Chinese herb used in treatment of liver diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. An extract was tested in human lung cancer cells and “showed a dose-dependant antiproliferative effect.” (3) The more they administered this root the more the cancer cells stopped growing.

What to Do?

These early results are intriguing and suggest that these herbs can play an anti-cancer role in the human body. Unfortunately, definitive clinical studies have not been done to address these questions.

If you want to explore alternative approaches to compliment your existing care it is a good idea to work with a skilled clinician (such as a medical doctor experienced an immune boosting approaches) and not to rely on conversations with non-professionals such as the people who work in vitamin stores.

Science and medicine trudge along slowly at their own pace and on their own schedule. Unfortunately, lung cancer patients do not have the luxury of waiting for decades for treatments to improve. But the good news is that you can take more control of your destiny starting today. Numerous studies have shown that patients who learn more about their disease and are more involved in their treatment choices often have better results.


(1) Tang W, et al., Ganoderic acid T from Ganoderma lucidum mycelia induces mitochondria mediated apoptosis in lung cancer cells. Life Sci. 2006 Dec 23;80(3):205-11.
(2) Shun Fa Yanga, et al., Antimetastatic activities of Selaginella tamariscina (Beauv.) on lung cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. Journal of Ethnopharmacology Volume 110, Issue 3, 4 April 2007, Pages 483-489.
(3) Cheng YL, et al., Acetone extract of Bupleurum scorzonerifolium inhibits proliferation of A549 human lung cancer cells via inducing apoptosis and suppressing telomerase activity. Life Sci. 2003 Sep 19;73(18):2383-94.


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