Actinic Keratoses - Traditional Chinese MedicineTraditional Chinese Medicine Summary

Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM Summary

While actinic keratosis is not cancerous, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lesions associated with this condition may be considered to be forms of abnormal skin growths or tumors. They are caused by prolonged exposure to UV radiation leading to a disharmony of Qi and blood, the invasion of toxic pathogens, an accumulation of pathogenic heat, dampness and phlegm, or a deficiency of vital organ systems.[1] 

Treatment Philosophy

The goals of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to support health through regulating the circulation of Qi and blood, transform dampness and phlegm, and nourish Qi and blood.[1]

An understanding of some common concepts in TCM, like dampness and heat, is critical to understanding its treatment.

  • Qi: Qi is the vital energy throughout the universe and individual. In the body Qi nourishes, warms, moves, protects, and contains. Qi provides nourishment and brings nourishing blood to the skin. Too little Qi the skin would be thin, dull, weak and prone to disease. Without Qi, cell turnover and cell repair would not occur and wounds would not heal.[2]
  • Blood: The blood nourishes and hydrates the body. Without sufficient amount of blood, the skin would be dry, rough, cracked, lusterless, and low in elasticity. Lack of flow of blood (stagnation) leads to thickened, dry, scaling, purple skin and masses. Blood dryness often arising out of excess heat in the body. Blood can be easily damaged and becomes unable to nourish the sinews and the vessels. This causes a chain reaction whereby the body’s ability to defend itself, and heal itself, is lessened.[2,3]
  • Dampness: Just as in nature, damp pools and is heavy. It commonly affects the lower body and is difficult to resolve. Dampness appears on the skin as edema, pus, crusting, and serous fluid in vesicles. When dampness becomes pathogenic in the body, it can obstruct and stagnate the flow of Qi and blood, causing the body to be deprived of nourishment, and can decrease the body’s ability to heal itself.[2]
  • Heat/fire: Just as in nature, heat rises upwards, moves quickly, and changes quickly. Heat pertains to many skin conditions in which you see redness and inflammation, and feel heat. Additionally, excess heat can quickly turn to fire, which consumes the water aspect and dries out the body. When the body becomes undernourished, its ability to heal itself properly diminishes.[2]

Symptoms and Causes

Actinic keratoses are precancerous lesions that may eventually grow to become squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer). They appear as rough, crusty, and scaly spots on sun exposed areas of the body. 


Acupuncture supports the generation and movement of Qi and blood, expels pathogens, supports the functions of vital organs for a strong immune system, and harmonizes strong emotions. Additionally, acupuncture has many uses in cancer support including decreasing nausea, anxiety, fatigue, and pain.[10,11]

Diet and Lifestyle

Nutrition and diet

  • Healthy foods: Eating a variety of whole fruits and vegetables will nourish your Qi, blood, body fluids, and vital organ systems to fight off toxic pathogens and quickly heal any damage. [1,6,8]


  • Sun protection: Nothing works better than covering your skin up during periods of prolonged sun exposure and, of course, wearing sunscreen to reduce exposure to harmful UV rays.[6]
  1. Dai-zhao Z. The Treatment of Cancer by Integrated Chinese-Western Medicine. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press; 1989.
  2. Y. X. Dermatology in Traditional Chinese Medicine. United Kingdom: Donica Publishing Ltd.; 2004.
  3. De Hui S. Manual of Dermatology in Chinese Medicine. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, Inc.; 1995.
  4. Li P, Cheng Z, Du X. Management of cancer with Chinese medicine. [London] : Donica, 2003 (2004 printing).
  5. Maciocia G. The foundations of Chinese medicine : a comprehensive text for acupuncturists and herbalists. 2nd ed. / foreword by Su Xin Ming. ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2005.
  6. Alschuler L, Gazella KA. The definitive guide to cancer : an integrative approach to prevention, treatment, and healing. 3rd ed. New York: Celestial Arts; 2010.
  7. Berrino F. Mediterranean Diet and Its Association With Reduced Invasive Breast Cancer Risk. JAMA Oncol.2016;10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.5679PMID: 26797089 Link to research.
  8. Pitchford P. Healing with whole foods : Asian traditions and modern nutrition. 3rd ed. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books; 2002.
  9. Charrez B, Qiao L, Hebbard L. The role of fructose in metabolism and cancer. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig.2015;22(2):79-89; PMID: 25965509 Link to research.
  10. Chiu HY, Hsieh YJ, Tsai PS. Systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture to reduce cancer-related pain. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl).2016;10.1111/ecc.12457PMID: 26853524 Link to research.
  11. Towler P, Molassiotis A, Brearley SG. What is the evidence for the use of acupuncture as an intervention for symptom management in cancer supportive and palliative care: an integrative overview of reviews. Support Care Cancer.2013;21(10):2913-2923; PMID: 23868190 Link to research.
  12. Chaoul A, Milbury K, Sood AK, et al. Mind-body practices in cancer care. Curr Oncol Rep.2014;16(12):417; PMID: 25325936 Link to research.
  13. Croiset Gea. Modulation of the Immune Response by Emotional Stress. Life Sciences.1987;40(8):775-782; PMID: Link to research.
  14. Duman Cea. Voluntary Exercise Produces Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Behavioral Effects in Mice. Brain Research.2008;1199:148-158; PMID: Link to research.