Integrative Medical Systems in Practice in the US and Canada

Key Points

  • Integrative oncology uses mind-body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments.
  • Functional medicine is not a cancer-centered system, but its philosophy and approaches promote wellness and address many of the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments.
  • Functional medicine requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical and lifestyle profiles.
  • Naturopathic doctors (NDs) support people with cancer in using natural therapies, seeking to maximize overall health, fight disease processes, and prevent or reduce side effects of standard cancer treatment regimens.
  • NDs promote and teach health-related behaviors and may recommend specific supplements or nutritional programs in an individualized treatment approach.

Integrative Oncology

The Society for Integrative Oncology defines this integrative medicine field:

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

Integrative oncology care is provided by conventional medical professionals and complementary medicine practitioners from a variety of disciplines, ideally in a team approach:

  • Medical doctors
  • Naturopathic doctors
  • Traditional Chinese medicine doctors
  • Acupuncturists
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Fitness instructors
  • Health and wellness coaches/counselors
  • Mind-body therapists
  • Massage therapists
  • Nutritionists
  • Osteopathic physicians
  • Patient advocates
  • Integrative oncology navigators
  • Physician assistants
  • Physical therapists
  • Psycho-oncologists
  • Yoga/qigong instructors
  • Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners

Integrative oncology care is provided by conventional medical professionals and complementary medicine practitioners from a variety of disciplines, ideally in a team approach.

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Board Certification in Integrative Medicine

When discussing “board certificatIon”, identifying which board is important. Three separate agencies of boards certify physicians in the United States:

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Naturopathic Medicine and Oncology

According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, “Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary healthcare profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process.”3

Among integrative medical systems, naturopathic oncology stands out in developing a national/international evidence-informed training system for physicians.

Naturopathic doctors (ND) support people with cancer in using natural therapies safely, seeking these outcomes:

  • Maximize overall health
  • Fight disease processes
  • Prevent or reduce side effects of standard cancer treatment regimens for patients who use them

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Naturopathic Physician Licensing

Naturopathic physicians are not universally licensed across the United States and Canada. See the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges website for details about which states and provinces license naturopathic physicians and requirements for licensure.

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Look for a licensed naturopathic physician or naturopathic doctor—a licensed professional who has completed a medical education program and passed board certification—rather than simply a “naturopath.”

Find a Naturopathic Oncologist

  • American Association of Naturopathic Physicians: Online Directory
  • American Board of Naturopathic Oncology: Find a FABNO
  • Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP): Directory 

If you are looking for a naturopathic oncologist, please refer to our Questions for Your Care Providers page. 

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Functional Medicine

Functional medicine  looks at the core imbalances that may eventually result in disease.

Functional medicine (FM) is not a cancer-centered system, but its philosophy and approaches promote wellness and address many of the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments.

Functional medicine looks at the core imbalances that may eventually result in disease. According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, “functional medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.” FM requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical and lifestyle profiles. FM practice notes that “one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions.”6

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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been widely integrated into conventional cancer care both in the West and in China and is the most widely used traditional medicine among American cancer patients.9

More information about TCM is available on our Traditional Chinese Medicine page. 

Anthroposophic Medicine

Anthroposophy is a tradition founded by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, a Christian mystic, philosophical follower of Goethe, and student of Eastern as well as Western spiritual traditions. It has deep roots in central European folk medicine. Steiner’s followers created a network of schools, hospitals and homes for the elderly and the mentally disabled throughout Europe and the United States. In America, anthroposophy is best known for its “Waldorf schools” for children.10

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