Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Have a Role in Treating Melanoma?

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Topics include: Treatment

Dr. Michael Wong remembered his grandmother using many things to treat ailments. He describes how his great grandmother passed down the Chinese touch to his grandmother, and now as a doctor, his grandmother has passed it down to him. He talks about how Chinese medicine has a place, and it is not meant to interfere with drugs that have a stronger potency to truly fight the cancer. Dr. Wong has traveled all the way to China to go straight to the source and check for practices himself. He wants to be able to look a patient in the eye and tell them, “This is the medicinal path you should take.” He wants to accompany his patients on their voyage of cancer, while he continues his voyage of medicinal discovery—because after all, without them, none of this would be possible. His patients are the light in a dark room.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Andrew Schorr:

Hello.  I'm Andrew Schorr.  I'm with Dr. Michael Wong who is a professor at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.  He's head of the medical oncology solid tumor section and, of course, a specialist in melanoma.  Thanks for being with us.  

Dr. Wong:

Andrew, it's my great pleasure to be here. 

Andrew Schorr:

So you're of Chinese descent. 

Dr. Wong:

Mm?hmm. 

Andrew Schorr:

And, you know, going back thousands of years there's been Chinese medicine, yet you're a Western medicine doctor.  You have to wonder, are there approaches elsewhere that could be used together, sort of complementary, and this sort of goes to all of us patients, Chinese or not, we all say what can we do?  Is there a supplement we can take?  Is there a tea we can drink?  Is there some salve we can put on that will fight the cancer better than what you might offer in the clinic?  Where are we now related to melanoma in that? 

Dr. Wong:

Right.  So you touch on something really personal to me.  My grandmother was really someone who did a lot of this sort of thing, and so all these—there's this concept of—Chinese concept of hot, cold and yin and yang I got from her and handed down from her mother to her.  So I have a—I have a real personal touchstone for me. 

On the other hand, I'm really cognizant of the fact that when I look at patients and I try to make a decision, I need to go off of what we know scientifically.  It sort of inhibits me at least from just going off and suggesting everything, because one of the things you don't want to do is waste people's time or, even worse, cause toxicity.

Having said that, I'm also a real fan of these complementary approaches.  Let me just say that a lot of the chemotherapy drugs come from these natural things, right?  So vincristine (Oncovin®), periwinkle, you know,the doxorubicin (Adriamycins®), mold, so on and so forth, and so the idea of finding things within nature that is helpful is not one which is incompatible with modern technology.

But here is the issue.  I've actually traveled to China—I think I told you this—to really look at this, and the issue is—is that there's a lack of scientific rigor, and so it's very hard to—to—to look someone in the eye who has cancer and say, I think you should do this for sure because so many things are at stake.  And then, of course, patients do want to get better.  And so the huge problem we have now is this knowledge gap.  And what has flowed into this knowledge gap, unfortunately, are people making claims about things, and I wish we had more ability to say yea or nay, but right now the way it is right now, we don't have really good data to help. 

Andrew Schorr:

One thing I'm sure you'd welcome though is your patients if they were thinking of taking some supplement or drinking some kind of tea or whatever, because there could be properties of it that could work against a proven therapy, you want that communication.  You want them to tell you. 

Dr. Wong:

Oh, absolutely.  Well, good or bad.  I'll tell you what I tell the doctors I teach.  We don't know what we don't know.  And so it's like having your antenna out, and patients are your partners in this voyage of discovery.  So I'd like to know. 

You're right.  The downside is that some of these things can cause changes in your liver metabolism.  Some can change the way our chemotherapy drugs work inside the body.  Some change the way—the kinetics of chemotherapy drugs, how they get in and out of your body.  But I'm open to the fact that maybe it's helpful. And with all these new drugs coming forward, we don't always have a good fix on mechanisms.  We have—we have an idea, but we don't sometimes really a hundred percent know.  And I'm open to the possibility that things may be beneficial.  So I'd like to know, and I know many of my colleagues would like to know if nothing more than to keep track of what's happening.  

Andrew Schorr:

Mm?hmm.  Well, I think we're doing this discussion here at a very hopeful time.  You've seen changes in your career.  They seem to be accelerating.  You're seeing more promise in the lab.  So patients are your partners, and you're kind of on this adventure—hopefully a more positive adventure going forward. 

Dr. Wong:

Absolutely.  It's a—it's a—it's a great time to be an oncologist in this area.  I've been part of this change, and it's gratifying to see how patients in the past—I'm thinking back to the young man that I—in my very beginning of my career that we treated once and had to go home to hospice, that would never happen today. 

Not only do we have, you know, a situation where we can treat people but, you know, when patients walk in the room I say there [are] two C words here, the "cancer" word and the "cure" word.  And that's something which it's not a word oncologists use lightly, but I think it's one which I'm using increasingly frequently. 

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  Well, Dr. Michael Wong, thank you...

Dr. Wong:

Thanks, Andrew. 

Andrew Schorr:

Andrew Schorr with Dr. Michael Wong from USC in Los Angeles.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on May 8, 2015