What Is Integrative Oncology?
Before I get into clarifying what integrative oncology is NOT, let’s first make sure all of our newer readers know what it IS.
Integrative oncology is the use of evidence-informed therapies and approaches that are focused on:
- Cancer treatment
- Side effect prevention & management
- Promotion of healthful living (making the body less conducive to cancer growth)
- Patient empowerment
Integrative oncology combines evidence-informed:
- Conventional” treatments (chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, etc.)
- Complementary” therapies (massage, acupuncture, meditation, botanical supplements, etc.)
- Lifestyle counseling (“the 3 pillars“: anti-cancer nutrition, exercise & stress reduction, smoking cessation, etc.)
When a choice exists among therapies of equal effectiveness, integrative oncology recommends first trying those that are:
- Convenient (to obtain and to use)
- Less likely to cause side effects or complications
- Low risk of interfering with other treatments
- Low cost
As an example (followers of the IOE will have read many examples), we often initially recommend a variety of therapies (i.e. meditation, breathing techniques, acupuncture, exercise, etc.) to help patients better manage stress, pain, nausea and sleeping problems instead of, or in addition to, prescribed medications.
Integrative oncology approaches to cancer care are ever evolving as new treatments, therapies and healthful lifestyle modifications are discovered, developed and rigorously analyzed.
What Integrative Oncology Is NOT:
Unfortunately, many patients have been led to believe (through direct-to-consumer marketing, word of mouth, practitioners who sell false hopes and hype, etc.) that there are ‘magic bullet’ pills, tonics, creams, diets or ‘cures’ for cancer out there that the conventional oncology establishment won’t tell them about. This is simply not true.
Integrative oncology does NOT involve the recommendation of treatments that are unsupported by science.
Recommending unsupported therapies would be considered in the realm of:
- alternative medicine: therapies that are used in place of effective and proven treatments
- pseudoscience: therapies in which the quality of the science supporting effectiveness is weak or non-existent
- quackery: see “pseudoscience”
Therapies that fall into these categories include unproven or disproven:
- natural or man-made supplements, drugs and other medicinal agents
- other therapies
Read more about quackery & unsupported therapies:
- “Cancer Quackery: The Persistent Popularity of Useless, Irrational ‘Alternative’ Treatments” (by Barrie Cassileth, PhD, et. al., Oncology, August, 2012)
- “Quackery, Placebos, and Other Thoughts: An Integrative Oncologist’s Perspective” (by Brian Lawenda, MD, Oncology, August, 2012)
- “The Key to Reducing Quackery Lies in Healing Patients and Treating Their Experience” (by Bernie Siegel, MD, Oncology, August, 2012)
It’s important to acknowledge that new research may eventually establish efficacy of therapies previously considered as ‘unproven’ or ‘disproven.’ Until that time, however, integrative oncologists will continue to recommend quality, evidence-informed approaches.
For a variety of reasons, many patients are looking for alternative options in the management of their cancer (mistrust of the conventional medical system, desire to avoid aggressive cancer treatments, fear of side effects and complications, cost concerns, spiritual or religious reasons, etc.)
It’s not uncommon for patients to seek the help of practitioners who knowingly or unknowingly offer them therapies that fall into the unproven or disproven categories. Some of these practitioners identify themselves as integrative oncologists, which can make it challenging for patients to select a provider who supports integrative oncology as outlined above.