Combined Western-traditional medicine could boost cancer treatment: expert
But comprehensive clinical studies must be carried out and patients must be educated to accept the combination of methods, Tony Mok Shu Kam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told participants at a two-day medical forum in Singapore sponsored by the Lancet medical journal.
“Traditional medicine was previously the standard medicine, and a large portion of cancer patients still use it,” Mok said referring to China. “We cannot discredit traditional medicines, because they are so old and they are still here, so there must be some virtue. But we must do something in a scientific fashion to prove it better.”
While a number of Chinese studies have been published on the efficacy of some common herbal medicines, Mok said their trials were too small or the methods too inconsistent to be approved in the West.
“We have to move forward and invest in high-quality studies,” Mok said.
Some traditional Eastern medicines have been proven effective through research and clinical trials. For example, Artemisin, used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese herbal medicine, is emerging as a drug of choice for treating drug-resistant malaria, an advance supported by the World Health Organization.
Mok referred to ongoing studies in the United States and Russia that are examining the use of kanglaite, commonly used as a supplement in Chinese diets and one of the top-selling anti-cancer traditional herbs. Another Western-led study is looking at the herb astragalus, used in China to boost the immune system during chemotherapy.
Another researcher worried that too many people in developing countries are being taken advantage of by untrained traditional healers.
“There are many people who are not trained. These people are out to make money,” Monika Bardhan of Malaysia’s NCI Cancer Hospital told The Associated Press.
She said too many people first go to traditional healers and pay exorbitant prices for concoctions with unproven ingredients. By the time they come to the hospital, it is often too late to treat them.
Bardhan said she is not against traditional medicine as long as patients are educated about what they are receiving and the doctors or healers are legitimate.
Mok said some hospitals in China were using both traditional and Western medicines — herbs and chemotherapy, or acupuncture and modern diagnostic imaging, for example — but more needed to be done to integrate the methods.
A key factor in the integration would be convincing users of traditional medicine that modern science is as good as or better than their centuries-old methods.
A 2004 study in China showed that 49% of women who were being treated for breast cancer with traditional Chinese medicine believed it to be an effective treatment for their disease.
Mok also referred to a Chinese trial he was involved in this year in which some prospective patients declined to be part of a placebo control study to test the effectiveness of a traditional medicine when they learned their chances of getting the medicine were only 50-50. They preferred to go to a traditional doctor who would definitely prescribe the treatment they sought.