Integrative Oncology

How Integrative Oncology is setting a standard for modern medicine

Patients with cancer are turning to integrative oncology as part of their cancer and survivorship care. Studies from around the world are more frequently reporting the increased use of integrative medicine by people living with cancer. What is it about integrative medicine that makes so much sense for people undergoing cancer treatment? 

Cancer is a unique disease. There are many different types of cancer, just like there are many different types of patients. Therefore there are many different forms of treatment for cancer. There is no “one size fits all” approach. 

This is why integrative approach works so well with oncology. Integrative medicine is personalized medicine. The integrative approach looks at all patients as being unique, albeit with similarities. 

Oncologists cater their treatment to you and your specific type of cancer. Integrative medicine practitioners cater their treatments to you and your specific health concerns. The marriage of these two concepts means a personalized approach to your disease, and to your health.  

Adopted By Leading Cancer Centers

Integrative care helps reduce symptoms from cancer treatment and improve quality of life. Top cancer centers started integrating integrative services because they saw their patients’ lives improve.  

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center was the first to incorporate integrative medicine back in 1999. MD Anderson and Dana Faberwere next to follow. Now most large and small hospital systems include some sort of integrative care for their patients, including the Mayo Clinic and Harvard University. 

The physicians at these leading cancer centers realized early on the benefits that integrative care provides to their patients. After years of research, we now know that improved quality of life also leads to better outcomes for patients. 

Integrative Oncology: A New Discipline

In 2003, the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) was formed by a multi-disciplinary group of researchers and clinicians from major cancer centers in the United States. Its mission is to advance evidence-based, comprehensive, integrative healthcare to improve the lives of people affected by cancer. Over the years, it has grown to have participants in different aspects of healthcare from countries all over the world. 

In 2017, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute put forth a definition of integrative oncology: “Integrative oncology is a patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments. Integrative oncology aims to optimize health, quality of life, and clinical outcomes across the cancer care continuum and to empower people to prevent cancer and become active participants before, during, and beyond cancer treatment.”

Integration of Science and Tradition

The integrative oncology approach to medicine stems from traditional medicines from around the world. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, and Western Herbal Medicine are the most common forms of traditional medicine.  The process of integrative oncology is when patients are receiving these types of interventions in addition to their conventional cancer treatments.

Traditional medicine treatments have been used safely and effectively for thousands of years. Research shows these treatments can help mitigate the side effects of cancer treatment, allowing people to tolerate their treatments better. Being able to complete a treatment plan that the oncologist provides is essential to combating the disease.  

Personalized Medicine

While Personalised Medicine is considered the latest innovation and trend in modern medicine, traditional medicine was always personalised. Modern medicine is catching up and integrative oncology is leading the way!

Oncologists design a plan of care based on a patient’s specific cancer. Integrative cancer care utilizes principles and methods that are catered to the specific patient’s experience. A patient that gets immunotherapy for their cancer may not receive the same types of integrative treatments of someone who is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, although overlap is common. 

All patients can benefit from integrative therapies, but what works for one patient may not be right for another. Therefore, seeking out a dedicated professional with an understanding of integrative cancer therapies is highly recommended. 

Integrative Treatments 

The treatments utilized in integrative oncology include: acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary supplements, massage, meditation, movement therapies (such as yoga and tai chi), and nutrition and dietary changes. 

The interdisciplinary and multimodal approach is the key to the success of integrative oncology. While conventional medicine is there to work on ridding the body of the disease, integrative medicine is incorporated to maximize the body’s innate healing potential and reduce stress.