This week, we take a look at Integrative Oncology

Types of Complementary Therapies

People living with cancer may consider using complementary therapy in addition to standard treatments. Many people do this to reduce the side effects of cancer treatment and improve their physical and emotional well-being. Such approaches may also help improve recovery from cancer. However, talk with your health care team before adding complementary therapies to conventional medicine. They can help you add the right options for you in a deliberate and safe manner. This approach is called integrative medicine.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: We need to first define some terms here. Complementary therapies are adjuctive treatments which are intended to supplement conventional treatments. When we speak of complementary therapies, we imply that these are in addition to the routine conventional treatments such as full-dose chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Many, but not all, complementary therapies are also considered alternative therapies. Basically, they are considered alternative if conventional medicine does not recognize them as valuable therapies. Most alternative therapies would fall under the heading of “natural treatments” or “natural medicine.”

In contrast to these, integrative treatments combine the best conventional therapies with the best alternative therapies. Many patients erroneously believe that integrative means alternative or natural, and it does not. Integrative does not reject conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, nor does it reject alternative therapies such as supplementation, mind-body medicine, nutrition, and hyperbaric oxygen, to name a few. The key is to embrace any and all therapies which we believe will work best for each patient, and use them in a very precise and personalized manner. Thus, integrative oncology gives us the “best of both worlds.” I wholeheartedly believe that this is the future of cancer treatment.

Integrative Oncology: A Healthier Way to Fight Cancer

In the face of a cancer diagnosis, most people understandably head straight to surgeons who cut out tumors and to oncologists who use potent chemotherapies and radiation to root out disease. For many, the treatment ends there. But many experts are now saying that it’s time to take a more holistic, long-term approach to the disease, and to pay closer attention to the overall health of patients suffering from cancer. That is why many practitioners, including medical doctors, have embraced the rapidly expanding field of integrative oncology, which fuses the best of conventional and alternative treatments.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: I do not disagree with conventional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – but I feel that these treatments are only part of the arsenal we should be using to treat cancer. I like the quote in this article comparing cancer to a weed. Conventional treatments focus on eliminating the weed, but they do not really address the soil – the rest of the body. Cancer MUST be viewed as a systemic disease, and treatment must fight tumor burden AND the terrain which fostered the growth and development of that weed. If we do not address the terrain, we will continue to get weeds. The essence of integrative medicine is using the best treatments we have available for each patient in order to address both of these issues.

Integrative Medicine and Oncology: The Path of Healing and Wisdom

Many people view Integrative Medicine as the incorporation of multiple systems and practices of healing, rather than utilizing just one course of treatment, to aggressively fight a disease. But the true definition of Integrative Medicine, and especially integrative oncology, goes much deeper than that. One aspect of Integrative Medicine does indeed include the combination of different therapies for maximum benefit. But rather than just incorporating an arsenal of separate and non-contraindicated medical systems – such as Allopathic, Traditional Chinese, Naturopathic, etc. – to work side by side in a patient to fight cancer, for example, successful integrative oncology strategically combines specific healing systems, treatment modalities, and philosophies to function synergistically together on various levels.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: As Dr. Eliaz states in this article, in integrative oncology we are not only incorporating various treatments and modalities, but doing so in a synergistic way which meets the needs of the patient. This is based on the understanding that each patient’s cancer is as unique as his or her fingerprint. Thus, one size definitely does not fit all!