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About Cancer

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used are malignant tumours and neoplasms.

Tumour arises from a change in one single cell. The change may be started by external agents or inherited genetic factors.

A defining feature of the disease is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. The process whereby a disease spreads from one organ to another is referred to as metastasis. Metastases are the major cause of death from cancer.

There are over 200 different types of cancer. For example, the cells which make up the lungs can cause lung tumour. Furthermore, organs are made up of different types of cells, so there are different types of lung cancer.

This is a leading cause of death worldwide and accounted for 7.6 million deaths (around 13 percent of all deaths) in 2008.

The main types of tumours are:

  • lung (1.4 million deaths)
  • stomach (740 000 deaths)
  • liver (700 000 deaths)
  • colorectal (610 000 deaths)
  • breast (460 000 deaths).

Certain infections cause up to 20 percent of cancer deaths.

A significant proportion of tumours can be cured by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, especially if they are detected early. More than 30 percent of deaths can be prevented.

The disease arises from one single cell. The transformation from a normal cell into a tumour cell is a multistage process, typically a progression from a pre-cancerous lesion to malignant tumours. These changes are the result of the interaction between a person’s genetic factors and three categories of external agents, including:

  1. physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation;
  2. chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, aflatoxin (a food contaminant) and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant); and
  3. biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria or parasites.

Ageing is another fundamental factor. The incidence rises dramatically with age, most likely due to a build up of risks for specific cancers that increase with age. The overall risk accumulation is combined with the tendency for cellular repair mechanisms to be less effective as a person grows older.

Tobacco use, alcohol use, unhealthy diet, and chronic infections from hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and some types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are the leading risk factors. Cervical tumour, which is caused by HPV, is a leading cause of cancer death among women.

Some of the most common tumour types, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer and colorectal cancer have higher cure rates when detected early and treated according to best practices.

Some of the other types of the disease, even though disseminated, such as leukemias and lymphomas in children, and testicular seminoma, have high cure rates if appropriate treatment is provided.

Western Medical View

Western medicine attributes cancer to various factors including environmental, emotional, genetic, lifestyle, exposure to chemicals or radiation, and infections.

Cancer mortality can be reduced if cases are detected and treated early. Examples of screening methods are:

-visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) and PAP test for cervical cancer;

-mammography screening for breast cancer.

Treatments include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and psychosocial support that is aimed at curing the disease or considerably prolonging life while improving the patient’s quality of life.

An important component of treatment is palliative care, that is, treatment to relieve, rather than cure, symptoms caused by cancer. Palliative care can help people live more comfortably. It is particularly needed when a patient is in advanced stage of cancer where there is little chance of cure.

Relief from physical, psychosocial and spiritual problems can be achieved in over 90 percent of advanced cancer patients through palliative care.

Chinese Medical View

Cancer as a malignant tumour has been long recognized by Chinese Medicine. The earliest Chinese written record of a tumour was discovered in the oracle bones of Yin Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. and the Chinese word for cancer was first used in a Song Dynasty medical book in 1171.

According to the World Health Organisation, acupuncture has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on cancer pain* and according to Chinese Medicine theory, Chinese medicine is powerful at enhancing the body’s own healing power and resistance to cancer cells.

We have seen many patients undergoing cancer treatments and we are able to offer supportive treatments to improve symptoms such as anxiety, pain, poor appetite, sickness and general weakness as well as for hair loss caused by radiotherapy and for the fall in white blood cell counts caused by chemotherapy.

The length of a course of treatment depends on the severity and duration of the symptoms as well as on the patient’s response. For side effects of radio or chemotherapy, it is better to start treatment prior to and to finish after the radio/chemotherapy course.

Chinese Medicine is not a substitute for conventional medicine. It is imperative that whilst seeking Chinese medical treatment, patients must continue with treatment prescribed by their GPs or consultants.

At AcuMedic clinics, senior consultants fully qualified in Chinese medicine and Western medicine from China offer supportive treatment for cancer patients.

Lifestyle Advice

More than 30 percent of cancer could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, including:

  • tobacco use
  • being overweight or obese
  • low fruit and vegetable intake
  • physical inactivity
  • alcohol use
  • sexually transmitted HPV-infection
  • urban air pollution
  • indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels.

Prevention strategies

  • Increase avoidance of the risk factors listed above.
  • Vaccinate against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV).
  • Control occupational hazards.
  • Reduce exposure to sunlight.

For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation.

Please be reminded that we offer free online health advice.


Dang W et al. [Clinical study on acupuncture treatment of pain caused by stomach cancer.] Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1995, 36(5):277-280 [in Chinese].

Dan Y et al. [Clinical study on analgesic effect of acupuncture on carcinomatous pain.] Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1998, 18(1):17-18 [in Chinese].