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Can Cancer be Defeated by Acupuncture?
A case history analysis originally published in
the Journal of Chinese Medicine in England

by Shmuel Halevi Ph.D


Cancer patients are occasionally seen in the acupuncture clinic, and some of them respond favorably either to acupuncture or herbal treatment. Most cases however, only resort to acupuncture at a late stage in their disease, and usually in despair. The majority of these patients are above fifty, and, as can be expected, in very bad shape. Partly because of this, cancer patients who benefit from treatment usually experience only a symptomatic relief, which, though very significant in some cases, is usually not a complete cure.

The following case history concerns a young man, who had come to my clinic only two months after the inception of the disease, and ten days after diagnosis. Because of the early stage of the disease, and the fact that he had not received any chemotherapy or similar treatment, his chances of recovery were significantly higher than those of the average cancer patient.

The patient, Mr. E., a 25 year old captain in the army, came to my clinic in February 1991. Two months prior to that, following a heavy blow to his face from a basketball, he had started to experience double vision and other visual disturbances. He then gradually lost sensation in his right arm, hand and leg, with marked motor disability of his right hand, and developed dizziness. In the first week of February, Mr. E. had several bouts of electrical shock like sensations throughout his entire body, after which he felt completely depleted, and his right side became virtually paralyzed. His left eye became fixed in the center of the orbit, was unable to move at all to the left, and he was only able to see blurred and double shapes. During these two months Mr. E. had series of urgent medical tests, including an M.R.I scan of the brain. Radiologists at the Wadassa hospital in Jerusalem and the Assuta hospital in Tel Aviv confirmed the existence of a brain tumor in the medulla pons area, slightly pushing onto the bottom of the fourth cerebral ventriculum. He was diagnosed as a brain cancer patient with a rather poor prognosis. Surgical procedures were not recommended due to the anatomic location of the tumor, nor, in fact, was any other treatment proposed.

The three professors who saw him did not suggest any link between the tumor and the trauma he had suffered earlier.

Clinical manifestations

Appearance: The patient looked very emaciated, thin and fragile. His right side was obviously feeble and his left eye was fixed in an unblinking, unmoving gaze. He was rather pale and frightened.

The pulse was deep, weak and slow. The middle left (Liver) position was thin and very wiry.

The tongue was very swollen, and slightly contracted. He was unable to stick it out at my request. Around the tip there were red points, and the rear portion was covered with dry, thick, yellowish moss.

Palpation: The liver was apparently enlarged (about one finger below the ribs), hard and sensitive. Zhangmen LIV-13 on the left was very tender, as well as points Juque REN-14, Zhongwan REN-12 and Fengchi GB-20.

Diagnosis: A swollen tongue that was contracted and could not be extended along with a wiry Liver pulse, suggested immediately a severe blood stagnation type of disorder. Both pulse and tongue, along with clear congealed blood symptoms (the tumor, fixed eye etc.), were in agreement with the Western diagnosis of cancer. The slow pulse, along with the obvious emaciation and slight paralysis, suggested an underlying Xu condition of Blood and Qi. His history confirmed a congenital heart problem with a murmur, and bradycardia.

It is my experience that tongue diagnosis of cancer patients is of supreme importance. A swollen, and contracted tongue shows severe damage to the general flow of Blood and Qi. Later, in more advanced stages, it is apt to change into a thin and contracted tongue, and then criss-cross cracks and/or pronounced tooth-marks appear (if they had not existed before). This is a gradual change from a Shi condition into a Xu condition, which reflects the matter-consuming nature of this disease. The patient was therefore still in the Shi stage, although quite quickly deteriorating. I was worried about the impact that this stagnation had had on his liver. At that time I was afraid of a liver origin to this tumor, in which case the prognosis would have been poorer. Yet he did not have any gastro-intestinal complications which liver cancer usually causes, which was a positive sign.

In disagreement with his Western doctors, it was my opinion that the cause of his disease was clearly his basketball accident. The heavy blow to the face tilted his head forcefully backward, causing a sudden and fierce impediment to the flow of Qi and Blood in the occipital region. His underlying condition of blood deficiency due to his congenital heart problem ("the Heart controls the blood"), did not allow the trauma focus to recover, and regain its normal free-flow of Qi and Blood. A sudden and heavy pressure of this kind usually generates heat, and being congealed within the skull, could not expand outwards, thus creating a marked area of congealed blood, possibly culminating in cancer. In addition the pressure of the tumor probably affected the nerves of his left eye, and the stagnation of Qi and Blood in his brain caused his hemiplegic symptoms.

Treatment plan

Being reluctant initially to act directly on the tumor itself, I devised a plan of first activating the Qi and Blood in the patient's right limbs. This, along with tonifying his substantial Qi, were intended to assist him in regaining his vital Qi, and to loosen the stagnation focus through the invigoration of the affected regions (i.e. right limbs and left eye). This is similar to C.V.A sequelae treatment procedures.

If this proved successful, the second step would be to act directly on the tumor focus, by means of decisive blood invigoration techniques. This procedure would be carried out, however, only after the patient had regained enough Qi, to enable him to withstand such harsh techniques.


Right side:

Left eye:


Hegu L.I.-4, Quchi L.I.-11 and Jianyu L.1.-15 all belong to the hand Yang Ming channel which is abundant in Qi and Blood, and are used traditionally as the most potent combination to invigorate the Qi and Blood of the arm and hand. Zusanli ST-36 is probably the most powerful point on the lower limb, also belonging to the same Yang Ming channel, helping here to invigorate the circulation in the right leg, and for general tonifying purposes. The combination of Zusanli ST-36 with Guanyuan REN-4 and Qihai REN-6 is renowned for its general tonifying abilities. Taichong LIV-3 and Sanyinjiao SP-6 is also a well known combination, used to invigorate Liver Qi, and move the blood. Qiuhou (Extra) and Taiyang (Extra) were chosen to stimulate eye circulation, enhance nervous functioning, and affect the tumor by acting upon its sequelae. Thus, invigorating Qi and Blood in the hand, leg and eye, was supported by a general activating of Liver-Qi, and by tonifying and strengthening the Qi in general.

This treatment was conducted for approximately twenty days, sometimes replacing points with others of a similar nature (substituting Quchi L.I.-11 for instance, with Shousanli L.I.-10).

During these twenty days the patient's condition improved rather dramatically. His right hand gradually regained its strength, until he was able to write almost as before. His right leg improved even faster and his gait changed to normal after ten days. The problem in his left eye still remained, even though it seemed as if he was now able to move his eye a little to the left. Although there was obvious improvement in his general energy, he still became weak now and then. After twenty days we began the second phase of treatment, and for this two sets of points were chosen:

Group A:

Group B:

Group A was intended to invigorate Qi and Blood in the brain, by acting mainly on the Du channel. For this purpose points Baihui DU-20, Renzhong DU-26, Fengchi GB-20 and Dazhui DU-14 were selected in the vicinity of the disease focus. Houxi SI-3 and Shenmai BL-62 were needled occasionally to open the Du channel, being the master and coupled points of this channel. The Du channel enters the brain and binds all the Yang channels.

Drastic stimulation of the Yang was necessary so as to invigorate the Qi in the brain and eventually dissolve the congealed blood.

Points Hegu L.I.-4 and Kunlun BL-60 were chosen for their ability to invigorate Qi and Blood in the head. Weizhong BL-40 and Kunlun BL-60 together have a dramatic impact upon the Bladder channel, which also travels through the brain, and eventually terminates in the eye. All these points were manipulated by dispersing method, causing an upward sensation propagating to the head. Kunlun BL-60 was needled with a four inch needle, which after the arrival of Qi was directed upwards, causing a distinct sensation through the back to the occiput, and sometimes even to the eyes. After the withdrawal of the needles (and only on days when the patient felt strong enough), olive oil was spread on the back, cups were placed over Dazhui DU-14 and over Dazhu BL-11, and slid up and down the Du and Bladder channels several times until the skin reddened.

Group B points were used every other day with reinforcing technique. Points Gaohuangshu BL-43, Dazhui DU-14 and Geshu BL-17 were also cauterized with moxa on ginger several times, after which the patient would feel very strong for the next few days.

At the end of another month of almost daily treatments, the patient's left eye could move a fraction farther to the left, his general physical ability became almost normal, his pulse was dramatically regenerated (though still slow), and above all, his tongue could stick out freely, was no longer contracted, was much less swollen, and had lost its thick yellowish fur.

At this stage the patient received another M.R.I test in Assuta hospital in Tel Aviv after which it was concluded that "...in comparison to the previous inspection there is a reduction in the brain stem expansion. " As a result, Mr. E. was advised to undergo radiation therapy. I agreed to this, considering that he would be receiving acupuncture treatment in parallel with the radiation sessions. In addition, I gave the patient powdered Dang Gui Ji Xue Tang (Tangkuei and Jixuetang Decoction), which is indicated for blood problems (such as leukopenia) which may occur as a result of radiation therapy.

Apart from a negligible weakness now and then, Mr. E. withstood radiotherapy in a way that amazed his doctors. However there was no distinguishable change in his condition after the radiation, and I kept treating him as before. The treatments were now given three times a week and directed mainly to his eye problem, with the addition of points either from group A or B, according to his condition. On days when he felt weak, tonifying points and techniques were chosen. On other days group B points and points to affect his eye were utilised. In treating the patient's left eye during this phase, I usually needled points Jingming BL-1, Chenqi ST-1, Qiuhou (Extra) and Taiyang (Extra), alternately. All points were punctured deeply (1 - 2 cun), causing radiating sensations behind the eye ball. Considering that the eye problem was the only symptom he now suffered from, it was hoped that putting full impetus on the eye treatment, along with occasional group A points, would eventually resolve the problem.

In the course of one year, during which the frequency of treatment sessions markedly decreased, the patient's eye very slowly improved, until it gained its full orbital movement. Mr. E. has now resumed his previous job in the army, and comes for acupuncture, in very good health, once a month.


1. In the treatment of cancer it is very important to adjust the treatment approach to the patient's condition at the time of the needling session. Cancer patients have notable changes in their energy level, and the treatment has to be tailored to the state of the patient on the day of the treatment, otherwise deterioration might occur. Despite this principle, however, in order to give the treatment an orientation it is imperative to devise a treatment plan which is based on an understanding of the patient's condition and needs. I would therefore call the general treatment plan, which may be composed of several phases, a strategy. By contrast the treatment routine, given daily within the strategy frame, may be called the treatment tactics. The tactics, therefore, are based on evaluation of the cancer patient's condition before every treatment, and dictate the nature of the treatment for that day. This may include the strength of needle stimulation, the technique (whether needling, cupping, moxa), and suchlike. Confusion between the strategy of the treatment, and its tactics, might cause either a worsening of the patient's condition (which in a cancer patient could be fatal), or a disoriented treatment which can not bring about a cure.

2. Many considerations which are established principles of acupuncture treatment, have an extra emphasis while treating cancer. Life is at stake here, and the battle is fierce. In T.C.M. when a diagnosis is defined, the usual tendency is to counteract it. In cases of heat, cooling actions are taken, in cases of excess, dispersing techniques and so on. A cancer tumor usually falls within the realms of a congealed blood pattern, a situation which calls for blood invigorating techniques as the main principle of treatment. However, despite the obvious excess condition, and the basic congealed blood pattern, the patient initially received treatments aimed at benefiting the paralyzed limbs, and tonifying Blood and Qi in general. Only after the Qi was moving normally in his limbs, and his general Qi and Blood level had been raised, as evidenced by his pulse and symptoms, was the congealed blood pattern dealt with directly.



Three years after Mr. E. has concluded his treatments and returned to normal life, as said above, he had a sudden relapse of the disease. The cancer had apparently become active again, and with a very quick and acute attack. 

Mr. E. did not survive this time, and died.

He was a true fighter and a fine and sensitive human being. May his soul rest in peace. 


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