IntegrativeApproaches: Introduction

Key Points

  • In integrative cancer care, patients and their cancer treatment teams work together to find appropriate conventional and complementary therapies that have been shown to be effective and safe.
  • BCCT provides a tour of various types of therapies, beginning with this page.

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

Highlighted Video


Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor, 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.

Highlighted Video

Cynthia Li, MD, explains the difference between integrated and integrative therapies, then demonstrates a simple, yet profound qigong practice.

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. We believe forgoing effective conventional therapies may be dangerous.

A Tour of Integrative Cancer Approaches

We invite you on a tour of various therapies through these pages in this section:

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