Integrative and Alternative Therapies and Approaches
What is integrative cancer care? The Society for Integrative Oncology offers this definition:
“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.”1
Donald Abrams, MD, defines integrative cancer care in a 2014 presentation.
Complementary, Integrative and Alternative Approaches to Cancer Care
Complementary therapies are those used to complement conventional treatments—not instead of conventional treatments. Complementary therapies may be used in a number of ways:
- To prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms of cancer and other treatments
- To boost the effectiveness of conventional chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other treatments
- To protect normal tissues from damage from conventional treatments
- To promote general wellness and resilience
- To reduce the risk of progression or a recurrence
In the United States, a 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) analysis found that 64 percent of respondents who had ever been diagnosed with cancer had used complementary approaches.2 A smaller study in Canada found that up to 75 percent of cancer survivors were using complementary therapies.3
Integrative cancer care is not simply adding complementary therapies to a cancer treatment plan.
Integrative cancer care is not simply adding complementary therapies to a cancer treatment plan. For cancer care to be considered truly integrative, patients and their cancer treatment teams work together to find the best blend of conventional and complementary therapies that have been shown to be effective and safe.
One of the most intriguing changes in the past 30 years of integrative cancer care is the movement of clinicians and patients toward an authentic integration of standard or conventional care, complementary care, standard investigational therapies and investigational therapies outside mainstream practice.
Alternative therapies are those that are used in place of conventional therapies, such as using only meditation or herbs to treat cancer. Some patients may choose an alternative medical system, such as traditional Chinese medicine, instead of conventional medicine to treat cancer. Using alternative therapies is becoming less common as integrative oncology care becomes more available to patients.
Nearly four in 10 Americans believe cancer can be cured solely through alternative therapies,4 even though research has found that patients with common cancers who chose to use only alternative medicine had a mortality rate 2.5 times as high as patients who received standard cancer treatments.5 BCCT does not recommend relying solely on alternative therapies when curative or otherwise effective conventional therapies are available.
A Tour of Integrative Cancer Therapies
We invite you on a tour of various therapies through these pages in this section:
- Kathryn H. Schmitz PhD, MPH Anna M. Campbell PhD and others: Exercise is medicine in oncology: engaging clinicians to help patients move through cancer
- Dr. Deirdre Orceyre: Naturopathic and Integrative Cancer Care
- Dr. Michael Ruscio: Dwight McKee Podcast
- Ralph W. Moss: Herbs Against Cancer: History and Controversy
- LifeExtension Nutritional Support: Integrative Interventions for Breast Cancer