What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine (IM) is a holistic, human-centered approach to health care that has begun to leave its mark on many of the nation's hospitals. Both doctors and patients alike are beginning to embrace the philosophy of integrative medicine and its “whole-person” approach to healing.
Integrative medicine is a healing-oriented medicine that combines evidence-based conventional treatments and complementary therapies to address the medical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness. Integrative medicine brings together a full range of proven therapies, with the patient's optimal health and healing at the center. It stresses not just the treatment of disease, but the promotion of health and prevention of illness.
Integrative medicine emphasizes:
- A whole-person approach to healing (addresses the body, emotions, mind, relationships and spirit)
- The importance of the relationship/partnership between patient and practitioner
- A collaborative approach to patient care among practitioners
- The practice of conventional and complementary therapies that are evidence-based
- Appropriate use of treatment methods to facilitate the body's innate healing response
- Philosophy that considers all factors that influence health and disease
- Incorporates therapeutic interventions in diet, lifestyle, exercise, stress care and nutrition
How is Integrative Medicine Applied to Cancer Care?
Integrative medicine may be valuable to those who are not ill, but wish to enhance their well-being and help prevent health-related problems. However, for people who are living with a chronic or life-threatening illness like cancer, integrative medicine may improve the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of their lives.
Integrative medicine views individuals in their completeness, looking at the person who has the disease, rather than the disease the person has. It uses complementary therapies in conjunction with mainstream medical treatments. For cancer patients, that means treating not just the cancer in the body (i.e., the tumor), but also helping them manage the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Complementary therapies have been used to promote wellness, support the immune system, help alleviate stress, reduce pain and anxiety and promote a feeling of well-being.
What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a broad range of healing practices that are not presently considered to be part of mainstream Western (conventional) medicine. The terms "complementary" and "alternative" are often used interchangeably, when in fact there are very important distinctions between the two. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine (such as in integrative medicine). Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.
Conventional, also called traditional, medicine includes treatments such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Complementary practices may include:
- Biologically-based treatments and natural therapies (e.g., therapeutic nutrition, naturopathy, herbal therapies, dietary supplements, homeopathy)
- Mind-body interventions (e.g., guided imagery, deep breathing, meditation)
- Physical care (e.g., physical therapy, rehabilitation, massage therapy)
- Energy therapies (e.g., Acupuncture, Qi gong, Reiki, touch therapy)
Tips for Selecting an Integrative Medicine
for Cancer Care
If you are interested in integrative medicine for your cancer care, there are a few things you should know before selecting an integrative medicine provider:
Decide how you want to receive care.
You may want to continue seeing your current oncologist and look for other practitioners who offer complementary therapies (e.g., nutritionists, naturopaths). Or, you may want to find a facility (i.e., a medical center) that practices integrative medicine, offering both conventional and complementary therapies. An ideal situation is if all of your providers are housed in the same facility. This way, your treatment will be streamlined and everyone will be on the same page about your care.
Make sure coordination of care is being handled appropriately.
If you are seeing other practitioners separately, make sure your oncologist knows about it, and vice versa. You should inform all your providers about all the treatments you are receiving. If you find a medical center, make sure the physicians and practitioners work as a team, and will communicate regularly with each other about your treatment plan. Coordinated and safe care ensures that all aspects of your health care are working together.
Choose your providers carefully.
If you find a medical center, make sure they practice what they preach. This means using a truly integrated approach, and that the clinicians there believe in it. If you decide to seek out complementary medicine practitioners separately, find out about their training, credentials, skills and experience, particularly what licenses or certifications they have. Many states have regulatory agencies or licensing boards for certain types of practitioners.
Be an informed consumer.
Learn more about the complementary therapies in which you are interested. Find out what scientific studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of the treatment/s. Understanding a treatment's risks, potential benefits and scientific evidence is critical to your health and safety. Also, remember that everyone is different and each person responds differently to treatments. If someone told you about a CAM therapy that worked for them, it does not mean you will react in the same way.
Do not use complementary therapies on your own.
When properly combined with traditional cancer treatments, some complementary therapies can enhance wellness and quality of life, but others may be harmful. It is important to keep all your providers up-to-date about any and all complementary therapies you are using. Some dietary supplements/herbal products may interact with your other medications or interfere with your conventional cancer treatment. Therefore, you should consult with your oncologist/health care providers before making decisions about which complementary therapies to use.
Keep the lines of communication open with your health care providers.
It is important for your healthcare providers to be aware of your entire care and self-care routines (e.g., medication/supplement intake, exercise routine, diet, etc.). In addition, you should communicate to your providers any changes in your sleeping habits, constipation, depression, appetite, etc. An advantage of an integrative medicine center is that your providers are able to communicate regularly about your medical care.
Integrative Medicine at CTCA
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) was founded on the philosophy of a whole-person, patient-centered approach to cancer care. Today, after nearly 20 years of providing integrative cancer treatment to our patients, CTCA has become recognized as a leader in integrative cancer care.
At CTCA, our cancer experts offer the best of conventional treatment options first and foremost, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Then, we supplement those traditional treatments with evidence-based complementary therapies, such as nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, and oncology rehabilitation, as well as mind-body medicine and spiritual support. All of these treatments are wrapped up into a personalized care plan tailored to your specific needs.
The physicians and practitioners that make up our expert care team have been carefully selected for their experience, skill, compassion and shared belief in the philosophy of integrative medicine. And, since all of your care is handled under one roof, your care team at CTCA is able to work as just that—a team—communicating regularly with each other about you. Here, you are at the center of your care.
At CTCA, we understand that you are more than just your cancer. You are an integrated being of body, mind and spirit; and that is how we treat you. We strive to provide you with the highest quality cancer care within a nurturing, patient-empowered environment. We understand that you are putting your well-being in our hands, and we will do everything we can to help you. Our integrated approach allows us to explore many resources to fight your cancer on all fronts—to help you become physically, nutritionally, psychologically and spiritually fit to fight cancer. At CTCA, we fight for you, and with you, every step of the way.
I hope this information has helped you in some way. I will check in with you again next month. In the meantime, stay strong and hopeful.