Integrative Approaches to Cancer Treatment

Integrative treatment for cancer

Written by Dr. Daniel Shaye — 

People with cancer are just that: people—fighting a disease. Helping them achieve a high quality of life during this process is a more complete model of care than just trying to kill a disease. Emotional, physical and other needs  are complicated by their diagnosis. But what forms of integrative medicine have demonstrated value for patients?

Before tackling this question, let’s examine our treatment culture. “Alternative” medicine is fringe. Unproven. When used in place of proven methods, it is potentially dangerous. True integrative medicine respects the value of different healing arts and traditions. It’s a movement to bring together the best in valid, safe and effective methods that fight disease and promote health. When the primary diagnosis is a form of cancer, this integrative approach is especially important.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, N.Y., uses integrative medicine as a crucial component of its care model. While beating cancer is the goal, the integrative approach aims at “addressing cancer’s emotional, physical and spiritual side effects,” notes Dr. K. Simon Yeung, who also says that integrative oncology uses therapies to help “…body, mind and spirit, aiming to control pain and other symptoms and to optimize quality of life for patients and families.” 

While there are many popular therapies aimed at helping to improve a patient’s quality of life while undergoing treatment, these are among those labeled safe and effective: 

Acupuncture. Focused on stimulating specific points on the body, it’s proven to help reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea, decrease fatigue and shortness of breath, and lessen nerve damage and pain. “I just got a session yesterday and not only is it keeping neuropathy at bay, it’s helping with edema in my legs,” says Stephanie Castleman-Argue of Williamsburg, Va.

Massage Therapy. Dr. Mark Ellis, a Hampton Roads legend and hero to many cancer survivors and their families, ensured that massage therapists were available to his patients. Many other cancer centers do the same. The Society for Integrative Oncology recommends massage therapy to decrease anxiety and certain forms of pain, with the proviso that each patient’s physical needs be respected and made known to the massage therapist.  

Mind-Body Medicine. This intervention includes support groups and individual talk therapies targeted at alleviating a patient’s perceptions of pain and anxiety while focusing on quality-of-life issues. Music and exercise therapy, as well as yoga, have mind-body elements and research shows that the brain can profoundly influence the body, and vice versa.  

Chiropractic. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America have chiropractors on staff due to the improved quality of life patients experience from chiropractic care. The primary goal of this therapy is “to reduce pain and improve mobility…while minimizing the need for pain meds to reduce drug interactions,” according to Dr. James Rosenberg. 

After his mother’s care was mismanaged by a chiropractor not sensitive to cancer treatment protocols, Dr. Jeff Sklar, himself a chiropractic doctor, decided to help fill the need. He notes, “I have seen chiropractic improve the quality of life of over 1,000 CTCA cancer patients. The effects of chiropractic at any stage of the disease can be incredibly beneficial, as long as care is safely administered.”

Selecting a holistic approach to cancer can and should be an informed, rational and personal decision. Using the best of integrative medicine does not mean bucking what’s known to work. Reminds Sklar, “We are not treating cancer; we are treating patients with cancer.”