In contrast to western medicine (WM), traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) does not focus on a single target but on multiple targets involved in a particular disease condition by applying diverse modalities, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, etc. There is no pre-determined treatment procedure in TCM, and every patient condition is handled individually. Such patient-tailored treatments have a millennia-old tradition in TCM. Illustrative examples of the power of TCM have been documented in cancer research, i.e., camptothecin, homoharringtonine, or arsenic trioxide. On the other hand, one major reason for reluctance of western academia towards TCM is due to the lack of clinical studies of TCM receipts. This situation is changing very recently, and a number of clinical studies were conducted on TCM providing convincing evidence for the first time to gain credibility and reputation outside China. Clinical trials with TCM remedies focus on three major fields in cancer research: (1) improvement of poor treatment response rates towards standard chemo- and radiotherapy, (2) reduction of severe adverse effects of standard cancer therapy, and (3) unwanted interactions of standard therapy with herbal medicines. Efficacy and safety of TCM treatments depend on the quality of TCM products. Appropriate quality assurance and control of TCM products as well as sustainable production methods are pre-conditions for the implementation of TCM in cancer therapy at an international level. In conclusion, the most important question for recognition and implementation of TCM into WM concerns the clinical evidence for the efficacy of TCM and international quality standards for TCM products.
Although traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is widely used in Chinese cancer centres, it is a brand new area for formal scientific evaluation. As the first step of developing a research programme on clinical evaluation of TCM for cancer patients, we conducted a qualitative study to explore the perspectives and experiences of Chinese cancer patients and TCM professionals. Twenty-eight persons participated in two cancer patient focus groups and one professional focus group. Semi-structured interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and translated. Textual transcripts and field notes underwent inductive thematic analysis. We found that patients' decision to use TCM for cancer is a self-help process with a deep cultural grounding, which is related to the traditional Chinese philosophy of life. Participants perceived TCM to be an effective and harmless therapy. They highly valued the fact that TCM is tailored to patients, and believed it was the basis of an optimal and safe treatment. Participants also highlighted the long-term positive effects, the benefit of group interventions and the low cost as important features of TCM. Subjects believed that conducting clinical research would be crucial for the recognition and dissemination of TCM in Western countries. The findings of this study are expected to contribute to the knowledge base on the current TCM use for cancer in China, and to provide useful information for developing future clinical research in this area in Western countries.