Before she came to the United States in 1986, Hui Yan Cai, MD (China), PhD, LAc, was an attending physician at a large hospital in China. Integrative medicine has a long history in China. At Dr. Cai's hospital, it was quite routine for doctors to combine western medical care with acupuncture and herbs.
"In China, when I performed C-section deliveries in the obstetric ward, we would use acupuncture and injections of herbal medicine as the only anesthetic. This worked very well for both the mother and baby. It was especially helpful when the fetus had heartbeat irregularities, making the use of pharmaceuticals more risky," recalls Dr. Cai.
Dr. Cai also combined surgery with oriental medicine in treating women with cervical cancer. "We would perform a radical hysterectomy, but also give the patient acupuncture before, during and after the surgery along with herbal injections. The patients receiving acupuncture and herbal injections combined with a small amount of chemotherapy had much higher five-year survival rates compared to patients who only had surgery and chemotherapy," says Dr. Cai.
In regard to cancer patients, Dr. Cai notes that acupuncture and herbal medicine can often reduce the devastating side effects of chemotherapy. With cancer patients, Dr. Cai always uses tongue diagnosis in conjunction with biopsy, MRI and CT scans to get a more accurate picture. Part of her job in the hospital in China was to oversee Pap smear procedures. "We always used Pap smear in combination with assessing the vein color of the underside of the tongue to give us information we needed to pick out the most 'at-risk' patients," she says.
"In oriental medicine, we use tongue analysis to make diagnosis of both current conditions and the patient's risk for future health trouble," she explains. "By assessing the condition and color of various locations on the tongue, we can often determine patients who are at a higher risk for heart problems and certain cancers. If I see certain tongue patterns, I can recommend that the patient see a cardiologist or have a cancer screening and possibly intercept a serious health problem before a western doctor would normally detect it."
Dr. Cai sees many patients with fertility issues. "Hormone problems such as irregular menstrual periods, infertility, uterine bleeding, etc. respond very well to acupuncture," she says. "I also treat many in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients seeking to increase their chance of conceiving and sustaining a pregnancy to term."
Even though she practices only oriental medicine in the U.S., Dr. Cai insists that her patients bring their complete medical records to her office before she will treat them. "Increasingly, patients are coming to me along with their MD. It is good news that doctors in the United States are becoming more and more open-minded about oriental medicine."
In addition to earning her MD in China, Dr. Cai completed two fellowships in biomedicine, including one focusing on hormone receptor research. She also completed her PhD in Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2004. Dr. Cai now travels to other oriental medical colleges in the U.S. to give seminars on women's health and cancer treatment.