Many cancer patients often struggle to manage the physical and emotional consequences of cancer and its treatment. Conventional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery may cause fatigue, emotional distress, insomnia, nausea, vomiting and other side effects. Integrative cancer treatment approaches the disease by attacking it with conventional medicine, while also supporting patients’ overall well-being with therapies that may help manage cancer- and treatment-related side effects.
Integrative cancer care gained new ground in 2004, when leaders in integrative oncology at some top U.S. cancer centers launched the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO). The organization began by developing uniform clinical guidelines on the use of supportive therapies, with specifics on side effects for patients with breast and lung cancer. The guidelines, which have since been expanded to include standards for other cancer patients, continue to offer both clinicians and patients a key resource on the use of integrative therapies.
“Patients need to know that evidence-based integrative care means providers are using the best available research when making decisions about the care of individual patients,” says Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). Integrative cancer care isn’t just a theory, but a practice with some scientific support, thanks to a growing body of evidence suggesting certain supportive therapies may be beneficial—before, during and after cancer treatment.
An increasingly large percentage of cancer patients turn to supportive therapies as a way to manage the adverse effects of conventional treatment. A 2012 global analysis of studies from 18 countries found that the use of what’s commonly called “complementary medicine” has nearly doubled over the past several decades, from 25 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent after 2000.
“There is more research coming out showing the benefit of using these types of therapies,” says Lammersfeld. “More doctors and patients are seeing evidence that integrative care may help with preventing toxicities, controlling symptoms and quality of life.”
Supportive therapies include naturopathic medicine, nutrition therapy, mind-body medicine, spiritual support, acupuncture, pain management, oncology rehabilitation and chiropractic care, each of which may help patients manage a wide range of side effects, from pain and nausea to stress, neuropathy and malnutrition. But every patient is different. Some studies show benefits for some patients but not others, while various studies point out that additional research needs to be done. But the increasing pool of research, and the growing interest in the field among both scientists and practicing oncologists, suggest that helping patients manage cancer-related side effects may have important benefits to their overall health.
Read how integrative care is helping one patient through his journey with kidney cancer.
Learn more about the science of integrated cancer treatment.