The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 1,685,210 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2016.
That’s more than a million people in one year alone who will face the prospect of treating cancer…
When faced with a cancer diagnosis it’s common for people to feel panicked… and then stuck.
They don’t trust a conventional doctor’s motives to treat them with chemotherapy because we know the doctors stand to make a huge profit by pushing high-dose chemo drugs on cancer patients (see Issue #50).
Nor do they want to resign themselves to radiation treatment that damages so much healthy tissue along with the cancer…
But they may also feel it’s too risky to rely on alternative therapies alone…
What’s a person to do?
Read on to discover an emerging branch of oncology that takes a more “big-picture” (and preventative) view of cancer than conventional medicine, but that’s still rooted in modern, evidence- based medicine…
With cancer of all kinds running rampant, the field of oncology is becoming increasingly specialized.
Surgical oncologists remove tumors… radiation oncologists administer radiation treatment… medical oncologists provide chemotherapy as well as hormone therapy…
And even further, some doctors now only treat specific kinds of cancer (i.e., colorectal cancer or pancreatic cancer).
But what about a doctor who treats a cancer patient?
Instead of compartmentalizing each individual into their cancer, why can’t doctors treat the whole person?
A few them are starting to…
Integrative oncology is a budding branch of medicine that combines the philosophy of integrative medicine with cancer treatment. It takes account of the whole person (body, mind and spirit) as well as lifestyle.
The approach integrative oncology takes to cancer is to think of the cancer as a weed and your body as the soil in which it grows.
The aim of treatment is to make the soil (your bodily environment) as inhospitable to the weed as possible in order to stop the growth and spread of said weed.
While treating the cancer, integrative oncology also aims to support a person’s well-being and reduce the interruption to his or her life both during and after treatment.
It also makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional (such as surgery or immunotherapy) and alternative, to provide the most well-rounded care for the person being treated.
Complementary and alternative treatments
For example, an integrative oncologist may refer her patient to Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, such as an acupuncturist, as a complementary treatment with surgery or proton therapy.
Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective and safe treatment in managing cancer symptoms such as
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hot flushes
- Dry mouth(1)
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that breast cancer patients who received six weeks of acupuncture treatment alongside usual care tested higher on a variety of scales, including the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI; including both mental and physical fatigue), Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, General Quality-of-Life Scale (which measured Functional, Emotional and Social Functioning Well-Being effect).(2)
Acupuncture was actually shown to improve a patient’s quality of life. That’s incredible, and not to be dismissed.
Other complementary treatments an integrative oncologist might prescribe include techniques that strengthen the mind-body connection, such as
- Guided imagery
- Stress reduction
- Tai Chi
Integrative oncology and diet
As part of both treatment and cancer prevention, integrative oncologists look at a person’s diet as part of the overall picture.
As a Cancer Defeated reader you know that diet and lifestyle are major factors when it comes to developing cancer. Integrative oncologists know this too (better than most conventional doctors!).
This branch recommends eating a plant-based diet of primarily organic fruits and vegetables and reducing animal fats, red meat, dairy, refined sugar and processed foods because of their tendency to cause inflammatory reactions in the body.
In particular, it’s highly recommended you eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage because they have a chemopreventive effect on the body.(3)
One aspect of integrative oncology is nutrition therapy as part of the overall treatment.
Where a conventional doctor may tell a cancer patient to increase their calorie intake any way possible, such as by eating donuts, cream cheese and ice cream (Yikes!) an integrative nutrition therapist guides the patient in restoring digestive health, preventing malnutrition and provides personalized dietary recommendations that do not include sugar and processed foods.
Integrative oncology: Beyond diet and exercise
Integrative oncology takes treatment beyond the relatively standard complementary treatments of healthy diet and gentle exercise.
Other unconventional aspects of integrative may also include
- Image enhancement, which can help those experiencing physical changes due to treatment reduce anxiety and body-image issues
- Spiritual support for faith-based individuals, or anyone seeking spirituality
- Therapeutic laughter, usually practiced in a group session to harness the positive power of humor
- Animal-assisted therapy (aka pet therapy), where trained animals and their handlers visit patients as a way to reduce stress and provide distraction and comfort. Dogs are commonly used, but farm animals and dolphins can be trained therapy animals as well.
- Music and/or art therapy to boost mood and provide an emotional outlet, thereby reducing stress and giving the patient a means to express himself
While some of these may seem unnecessary or downright odd, remember that integrative oncology is all about helping a whole person through the ordeal of treating cancer, which means addressing all aspects of that person’s emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
Places to find integrative oncologists
There are numerous cancer treatment centers with integrative oncologists all across the country. A few examples include
- The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City
- Cancer Centers of America (locations in Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tulsa and Philadelphia)
- Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco
- Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Skokie, Illinois
The Society for Integrative Oncology has a directory of practitioners in the US; you may be able to find one near you.
If you or a loved one is ever faced with a cancer diagnosis, I would suggest seeing an integrative oncologist.
A doctor who looks at the whole person, and who isn’t all about the profits they gain from pushing high-dose chemo drugs, is someone you want on your side during such a transformative time.
- Acupuncture and cancer. http://www.autonomicneuroscience.com/article/S1566-0702(10)00081-0/abstract
- Acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue in patients with breast cancer: A pragmatic randomized controlled trial. http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/30/36/4470.short
- Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12094621