Chinese Medicine and Breast Cancer

In Western medicine, breast cancer is attributed to lifestyle, diet, alcohol consumption, obesity, lack of exercise, environmental factors, and genetics. Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. According to the CDC in 2006, 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer with 40,820 women dying of breast cancer.

In traditional Chinese medicine, breast cancer is called “Ru Yan,” or “breast stone.” Chinese medicine believes that the fundamental cause of breast cancer is emotional disturbances such as excessive thinking or anger, which lead to functional disorders of the Liver and Spleen. A common causative pattern is that excessive Heat from a deficient Liver, combined with Phlegm Dampness due to Spleen dysfunction, results in the blockage of Chi and Blood, which then “condenses” into breast cancer. Another common causative pattern is when Liver Deficiency and Kidney Deficiency lead to Chi and Blood Deficiency. Chronic Chi and Blood deficiency then leads to Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis, which causes the formation of lumps in the breast. A third pattern is when Qi Stagnation and Phlegm accumulation lead to excessive Heat toxins, which then turn to hard breast lump masses.

Traditionally, four patterns of breast cancer are differentiated and treated: Liver Qi Stagnation (hard masses without pain and redness); Phlegm Heat Obstruction (hard masses with sharp pain and redness and swelling); Liver Kidney Deficiency (hard lumps with swelling and a dimpled appearance of the breast skin, discharges and indentation of the nipple); Qi Blood Deficiency (hard lumps with swelling, ruptured abscesses, spreading to the surrounding areas).

The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi (life force) through out the body. The liver stores the blood and provides the mind with intuition and inspiration. The emotion associated with the liver is anger. If this anger is not expressed, the flow of qi and blood stagnates causing the fore mentioned patterns of breast cancer. The liver channel also terminates underneath the breast and can become blocked through under wire bras and shallow breathing.

While it is overly simplistic to say emotion causes cancer, western medicine has identified a Type C personality. This personality may be characterized as someone who responds to stress with depression and a sense of hopelessness. Type C personalities have a tendency to be introverted, respectful, eager to please, conforming and compliant. While correlation is not causation there is significant correlation between the Type C personality just as there is correlation between Type A personality and heart disease.

Since Chinese medicine represents a holistic model of health where as Western medicine is reductionistic, it is valuable to look at emotional factors in breast health rather than deconstructing the individual to just risk factors and symptoms.