Respectful Insolence

Nothing strange about this

An “integrative” medical practitioner observes:

I just came from a lecture by a Chinese Prof. who has a cancer hospital in China (Fuda Cancer hospital). What is strange, was it didn’t use therapies from China, but rather technologies from the USA. They have cryoablation, photodynamic therapies, dendritic cell therapies, immunotherapy as well as chemoablation.

They claimed to have a very good success rate in increasing survival. Patients from all over have come to this hospital in Guangzhuo.

Why is he surprised?

As I’ve pointed out before, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is losing out to Western medicine in China. The number of TCM practitioners has fallen by 2/3 over the last several decades, while the number of doctors trained in Western medicine has soared by nearly 20-fold over the same period. There’s a reason for this: Western evidence-based medicine works, and the Chinese now know it. Indeed, even though, for example, the Fuda Cancer Hospital does devote part of its website to TCM, and there is unfortunately some significant woo there (although, oddly enough, it’s almost all Western woo, such as enzyme therapy), the vast majority of its website could have been written for a Western hospital, with long articles on colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer, for instance, all of which discuss scientific staging and prognosis, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with almost nary a word about TCM. Also, prominent mention is given to modern experimental therapies, such as cryotherapy, brachytherapy, dendritic cell therapy, and biological therapies and cancer vaccines.

I find it most ironic that, as we in the U.S. embrace woo and rush to integrate it into our medical schools and academic hospitals, China appears to be doing exactly the opposite. Indeed, the Chinese appear to be embracing Western scientific medicine and gradually drifting away from TCM. They may have a long way to go, but the trend appears to be real. If the 21st century ends up being the Chinese century, as some are predicting, this will be one reason why.

Comments

  1. #1 ArtK
    April 5, 2007

    Here’s another perspective. The Chinese government is pushing for “improvements” in TCM. Here are a couple of articles on the topic.

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2007-03/22/content_833848.htm
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2007-03/26/content_836119.htm

  2. #2 Colugo
    April 5, 2007

    Good news indeed. The decline of TCM will have salutary effects not only for human health, but for the endangered species used in TCM as well.

    Bengal tigers
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15029424/

    ‘bile bears’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bile_bear

    penis emporium
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/5371500.stm

    book: Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn
    http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Bone-Rhino-Horn-Destruction/dp/1559635320

  3. #3 Orac
    April 5, 2007

    The Chinese government is pushing for “improvements” in TCM

    Of course, if the Chinese government is truly serious about “applying science” to TCM and testing it just like other medicine is tested, the end result could be the same: The decline of woo and the folding of TCM modalities that do some good (most likely, herbal preparations) into “conventional medicine.” The woo will almost certainly be shown not to work if the science is good.

  4. #4 Baratos
    April 5, 2007

    Yep, this just reinforces my view of China as a definite superpower in a few years. They have come a very long way from Mao Zedong.

  5. #5 Pastbyer
    April 5, 2007

    Ah, nice to see that my home country is coming along well…

    Now if only the government can do something about the cost of health care in China, then I’d be even happier.

  6. #6 James
    April 6, 2007

    I agree Baratos that if China plays its cards right they could become truly great.

    As for the Americans (or Westerners to be fair) embracing TCW (Traditional Chinese Woo), I feel it appropriate to quote one of my favourite lines from Gilbert and Sulivan:

    “The idiot who praises with enthusiatic tone, all centuries but this and every country but his own.”

  7. #7 Amenhotep
    April 6, 2007

    I also don’t know whether all those technologies are strictly from the USA… several of them were invented in the UK and Europe if my memory serves me correctly…

    The “east-west” nonsense also denigrates the very excellent work carried out by Chinese and Japanese (and other) researchers, who have contributed monumentally to the development of “western” (i.e. *proper*) medicine over the years, indeed over the millennia. “Western” medicine arguably originated in China and India, and all this woo about “chi”, “energy” and “meridians” is frankly a bit of an insult to these pioneers.

    Furthermore, a lot of (if not most) “Eastern” complementary therapies used in Europe and the US are distinctly European, such as Homeopathy and Reflexology – products of 19th-century woo-mania, dressed up to look mysterious and oriental.

  8. #8 Old Ari
    April 6, 2007

    A Canadian doctor was on “The Long March”, with Mao, so even then they were starting to use “Western”,medicine.

  9. #9 tim gueguen
    April 6, 2007

    I wonder if the presence of Western woo in Chinese medical clinics and hospitals has anything to do with expat investers coming back to China and bringing along woo they picked up living in the West.

  10. #10 HCN
    April 6, 2007

    Amenhotep: Exactly!

    This bit about Eastern versus Western medicine is the silliest bit of parochial woo thinking.

    While I was being browbeaten by a relative on how homeopathy was superior to “Western” medicine, I was finally able to get a word in edgewise (since one way to counter anything other than what they believe is to not allow comments) to ask her since when was Germany considered an “Eastern” nation.

    I have also learned since that the chicken pox vaccine was actually developed in Japan (learned that in Arthur Allen’s book _Vaccine_) … So has Japan become a “Western” country?

    Well… actually, if I visited either those countries I would have to fly WEST to Japan, and EAST to Germany (well, for the latter it would be north, then east with a polar route).

    By the way, I think one thing a person could do is point a East versus West woo thinker to the website of the Chinese Medical Journal and ask them to find papers that support their point of view:
    http://www.cmj.org/ (it is a mix of Chinese and English)

    While randomly clicking on its journal issues I did find one that studied herbs for real medicinal use (don’t worry, this is in English… but I really did not understand most of the technical talk):
    http://www.cmj.org/Periodical/PaperList.asp?id=LW8587

  11. #11 Dianne
    April 6, 2007

    Just to point out, one recent new development in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is a drug derived from a TCM mixture. Actually, the drug involved is arsenic. Apparently, the TCM mix was arsenic, snake venom and something else I’ve forgotten (mercury?). Anyway, they tested it and found that it caused apoptosis in APL cells. On clinical testing, all the efficacy was due to the arsenic whereas most of the side effects were due to the snake venom. So arsenic has become one of the more recent tools for treating APL. Another example of “What do you call alternative medicine that works? Medicine.” And a counterexample to those who claim that “western medicine” ignores the wisdom of TCM and other “traditional” medicines. On the contrary, medicine takes what works when it can from where it can. But, ideally, only what is proven to work after careful examination.

  12. #12 Dunc
    April 7, 2007

    Ah, just wait a generation or two – I forsee a significant future market for traditional Galenic medicine in China. People are only too happy to use ancient woo from other cultures…

  13. #13 ceejayoz
    April 7, 2007

    I have also learned since that the chicken pox vaccine was actually developed in Japan (learned that in Arthur Allen’s book _Vaccine_) … So has Japan become a “Western” country?

    Well… actually, if I visited either those countries I would have to fly WEST to Japan, and EAST to Germany (well, for the latter it would be north, then east with a polar route).

    No offense, but I don’t think silly semantics games will win us any more converts than their silly semantics games do. It doesn’t do anything except look like evasion.

    These sorts of belief are absurd enough to mock on their own lack of merits without having to get into which direction one flies in a plane to get to Japan.

  14. #14 XPM
    April 9, 2007

    A Canadian doctor was on “The Long March”, with Mao, so even then they were starting to use “Western”,medicine.

    A Toronto high school is named in his honour:

    http://www.bethuneci.com/

  15. #15 HCN
    April 9, 2007

    ceejayoz said “These sorts of belief are absurd enough to mock on their own lack of merits without having to get into which direction one flies in a plane to get to Japan.”

    Yes, that is true (also no offense taken). But often times I also find that those who hold the “West versus East” beliefs also have a limited grasp of geography, along with science… and worse the history of science.

    I have actually had this debate with a person who loved homeopathy, and was stopped short when I asked her why did she consider something from Germany not to be “Western”. As it turns out she actually thought homeopathy (as told to by the homeopath she was going to) was some ancient Eastern medicine. She was not pleased when I knew more about the creation of homeopathy than she did. Of course that did not change her belief in the strengh of the uber tiny doses she claimed helped her pain.

    It may be silly semantics, but at least I did get her to think past the parochial ideas of what is “east” versus “west” (which are imaginary constructs on a mostly spherical planet).

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