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What Is Integrative Oncology?

What Is Integrative Oncology?

After discussing the course of treatment with a newly diagnosed cancer patient, doctors frequently hear their patients ask questions such as "Should I follow an alkaline diet? I've heard that alkalizing the body kills cancerous cells. I've also heard that sugar feeds cancer. Should I avoid sugar as well? Does it really heal cancer? Can I undergo acupressure during chemotherapy to alleviate side effects? I've heard that homeopathy works and has fewer adverse effects than traditional cancer treatments. Could I try that first?" This article discusses the importance of understanding various therapies in cancer treatment, why patients might consider different treatments, and summarizes research on beneficial approaches (known as integrative oncology). It also evaluates ineffective "alternative" therapies. The article suggests ways to address patient concerns with evidence and empathy, aiming to build trust, improve the doctor-patient relationship, and enhance the quality of life for patients and their families.

Understanding CAM

The term "CAM" (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) often causes confusion in studies about additional therapies for symptom relief in cancer care. It doesn't clearly separate complementary treatments, like certain vitamins for health maintenance, from alternative ones, like high doses of vitamins for cancer treatment. The use of therapies beyond standard oncology isn't confined to specific areas or people. In places with modern medicine, a significant number of cancer patients and survivors, as well as the general public, explore CAM for various health benefits. The shift from the term CAM to "integrative oncology" marks progress in cancer care, emphasizing a holistic approach that combines traditional treatments with complementary practices. This change is widely accepted in leading medical centers, reflecting a move towards patient-centered care. Integrative oncology, now a key component of many esteemed academic medical centers, focuses on combining the best of conventional and complementary therapies, aiming for the best outcomes in patient health and recovery. This approach not only clarifies the use of complementary therapies alongside standard cancer treatments but also distances from the ambiguous and outdated CAM terminology, highlighting the importance of a unified treatment strategy.

Characteristics of Individuals Using Complementary Cancer Treatments

Studies show that cancer patients who engage with complementary therapies are typically younger, female, more educated, and wealthier, indicating a proactive approach towards their health. They often discuss integrative oncology with their doctors, valuing its benefits in symptom reduction and quality of life improvement. These patients usually find out about complementary therapies through friends (65%), family (48%), and media (21%), reflecting a broad acceptance and interest. This trend is supported by growing evidence and acceptance among both professionals and patients, further fueled by the recent focus on wellness and survivorship.

Talking Openly in Cancer Care: Enhancing Patient-Doctor Dialogues

For effective cancer treatment, it's essential to address all patient concerns, especially those about complementary therapies. Patients often hesitate to discuss these options with their oncologists, fearing misunderstanding or disapproval. This silence can prevent the use of beneficial integrative oncology approaches. Encouraging open conversations allows doctors to show empathy, better understand their patients' choices, and provide care that incorporates the best of conventional and complementary treatments, based on solid evidence. This communication fosters a more comprehensive care strategy, crucial for patient well-being and treatment success.

Comprehensive Complementary Therapies


The integration of ayurvedic approaches in cancer treatment effectively reduces the impact of several side effects among the patients. The immediate relief from the symptoms of nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite and early effects including diarrhoea, constipation, fatigue and myelosuppression is observed among the patients. The delayed side effects of the drugs followed after completion of chemotherapy involve skin rashes, alopecia, fever, insomnia, resistance to communication and functional reluctance, while long-term effects include neurological problems. Hence, Ayurveda has contributed to improving the quality of life of cancer patients after chemotherapy while integrating adjunct treatment with herbs-mineral combinations. The effectiveness of combinations of ayurvedic drugs in eliminating the complications of chemotherapy, choosing the appropriate combinations of ayurvedic medicines for implicating beneficial effects, and deciding the proper time of administration of ayurvedic medications during the period of chemotherapy. Most of the results of Ayurveda in cancer have shown advantages in reducing the side effects in patients and maintaining an excellent quality of life. When started from the initial phase of cancer treatment, Ayurvedic treatment gives better results in improving patients' lives.

In cases where biomedical treatment in cancer do not show any efficacy, the integration of the ayurvedic approach shows effectiveness in strengthening digestion, eliminating toxins, reducing tumor growth, and improving tissue metabolism. It shows efficacy in restoring equilibrium, building mental and physical strength, and rejuvenating the patient's body and mind while providing effective supportive care. The post-chemo and post-radiation reduce the physical and psychological power of the cancer patients during the treatment. Hence, it results in prolonged recovery, or the recovery is not easy in most cases due to the several side effects. The use of Ayurveda helps in combating such health issues. An appropriate diet is recommended for the patients involving the following pranayama, yoga, and meditation. Later on, the utilization of specific herbs and customized formulations are recommended. These herbal combinations of the ayurvedic approach strengthen the physical, mental, and immune systems. The formulations are recommended as the different cancer type systems or dhatu are affected. The study regarding ayurvedic longevity preparations, known as rasayanas, implicated that to minimize the toxicity of chemotherapy, and immune-modulating role is recommended to constitute a novel dimension to cancer treatment while moving forward toward new directions in cancer immunotherapy.


Medical Cannabis:

Medical cannabis has many potential benefits for cancer patients, especially symptom management. Medical cannabis is used beyond conventional cancer therapy for fighting anorexia, nausea and vomiting, pain, loss of appetite and depression caused by chemotherapy.

By targeting the various cannabinoid associated receptors, medical cannabis affects many essential cellular processes and signalling pathways that are crucial for tumor development. For example, they can induce cell cycle arrest, promote apoptosis, and inhibit proliferation, migration and angiogenesis in tumor cells. Different plant-derived cannabinoids and cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs have been the subject of intensive research for their potential antitumor activity, especially in cancer cells. In addition to THC, CBD is another plant-derived cannabinoid that has been extensively studied for its potential antitumor effects.

Mind-Body Wellness Techniques Integrative oncology recognizes the holistic benefits of mind-body therapies, which integrate mental and physical health to promote healing. Techniques like meditation, yoga, and relaxation exercises aim to alleviate stress and enhance well-being. Research highlights these methods for their ability to decrease anxiety and enhance life quality, particularly in conjunction with conventional treatments. Mindfulness practices, which encourage a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, along with yoga and tai chi, offer proven benefits for emotional health. These therapies, when practiced under skilled guidance, safely contribute to a comprehensive cancer care plan, offering patients tools for self-care and stress management. Ongoing research aims to further understand how these practices affect physical health.

Acupuncture Acupuncture, a time-honored practice with modern appeal, uses fine needles at specific points on the body, sometimes with heat or electrical stimulation, to promote healing. In the U.S., it's regulated and involves using sterile, single-use needles for safety. Sessions, conducted by certified professionals, typically last 20 to 40 minutes. This method has been scientifically studied and shown to be effective and safe for alleviating cancer-related symptoms, including pain, nausea from chemotherapy, dry mouth from radiation, and even anxiety and insomnia. Acupuncture works by influencing the body's energy flow, or "chi," and is thought to adjust nervous system activity. While primarily safe, it's advised that those with certain cancer conditions consult their doctor first. Acupuncture is increasingly recognized as a valuable component of a comprehensive cancer care plan, offering symptom relief where standard treatments may fall short.

Manipulative and Body-Based Practices Manipulative and body-based practices like Swedish massage, shiatsu, and reflexology, targets the body's musculoskeletal system to alleviate discomfort. Studies, particularly on Swedish massage and reflexology, have shown their effectiveness in easing anxiety and pain among cancer patients, highlighting their role in supportive care. These therapies should be performed by certified therapists trained in cancer care to ensure safety, avoiding strong pressure on sensitive areas. When applied correctly, massage offers significant relief and comfort to cancer patients, reinforcing the value of incorporating these practices into comprehensive cancer care plans, thereby embracing the principles of integrative oncology for holistic patient well-being.

Exercise and Physical Activity In the realm of integrative oncology, physical activity is recognized for its unique benefit in potentially extending the lives of those with cancer. This recognition is backed by research and guidelines advocating for a weekly exercise regimen, combining both moderate and vigorous activities, tailored to individual capabilities and health statuses. To meet this critical aspect of cancer care, numerous cancer centers have initiated customized exercise programs. These programs, led by professionals with specialized training in oncology fitness, are designed to meet the varying physical capacities of patients. Such an inclusive approach not only aims to bolster physical health but also plays a pivotal role in the comprehensive, holistic care and rehabilitation of cancer patients, emphasizing the therapeutic power of physical activity in their journey toward recovery. Benefits of Yoga For Colon Cancer Various reasons why some cancer patients might show interest in alternative treatments that are not supported by mainstream medical evidence include:

  1. Desperation due to poor prognosis or lack of other effective treatments, leading patients to try anything available.
  2. A desire among patients to look beyond conventional treatments, often due to a belief that oncologists may not be aware of all possible options.
  3. A sense of patient empowerment that comes from actively seeking and choosing one’s own treatment methods.
  4. Cultural and personal beliefs that natural remedies are preferable to synthetic ones.
  5. A tradition within certain cultures to use historical or local medical practices, such as traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine, or remedies from Latin American folk traditions.
  6. Suspicion of pharmaceutical companies driven by conspiracy theories, including the belief that these companies intentionally hide natural cures for cancer to protect their profits.
  7. The ease of accessing a wide range of information, including promotional and misleading content, via the internet and search engines.
  8. Marketing strategies that target patients directly, often with attractive packaging and misleading scientific terms.
  9. The spread of medical myths and purported cancer cures through social media, word of mouth, and other informal networks, pressuring patients to conform to these widely shared beliefs.

Alkaline Diets

Many patients with cancer are naturally curious about the role of diet in their health. It's not uncommon for them to explore different "anti-cancer" diets, which have gained popularity and are often discussed in self-help literature. One particular diet that is frequently mentioned is the alkaline or pH diet. This diet is based on the idea that cancer thrives in acidic environments and that an alkaline body can prevent cancer cells from surviving. To achieve this, proponents suggest using machines that turn tap water "alkaline" and recommend eating primarily vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, which are mistakenly believed to create an alkaline environment in the body. What is often not known to many patients is that our bodies naturally regulate our pH levels very closely, working to neutralize any excess acidity or alkalinity to keep our internal environment stable. The idea of "alkaline water" from special devices has little effect on this balance. In reality, what makes these "alkaline foods" beneficial is not their ability to affect pH levels, but their high nutritional value. Incorporating integrative oncology, which combines the best of conventional and holistic approaches, can help guide patients towards dietary choices that support overall health. Embracing a diet rich in the fresh produce and nuts described can be part of a comprehensive care plan that optimizes well-being during cancer treatment. This approach to diet is valued not just for its potential to complement traditional cancer therapies, but also for its broader health benefits.

Sugar and Cancer

Many people with cancer are concerned about the impact of sugar on their illness, wondering if it could actually "feed" the cancer. It's true that cancer cells consume sugar, but this is a topic that's still being studied. Despite this, some people might worry too much about eating anything with sugar, which can cause unnecessary stress and affect their quality of life. It's important to maintain a sense of balance; while there's no clear evidence that sugar directly causes cancer to grow, it's well-known that too much refined sugar isn't good for anyone's health. So, a little sugar here and there is generally okay. The key is moderation. It's healthier to get your calories from complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. These foods provide energy and nutrients without the health risks that come with high amounts of refined sugars. For those who can't eat complex carbs due to certain medical conditions, there are other options to maintain a balanced diet. Integrating these healthier food choices can help maintain a good quality of life and support overall health during cancer treatment.

Other Anti-Cancer Diets

There are many diets out there claiming to fight cancer, like the Budwig diet, the Gerson diet, and raw food diets, among others. Some people also try detox or mono diets, which often focus on just fruit and vegetable juices. These diets tend to leave out important food groups, which can lead to missing out on vital nutrients needed for overall health. Another diet that's getting a lot of attention is the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. Some studies in animals suggest it might help make radiotherapy more effective, but we're still waiting on clear results from human trials. Right now, there's no solid evidence that these strict diets can extend the lives of those with cancer. When patients bring up these "anti-cancer" diets, it's a great chance to talk about the benefits of a balanced lifestyle. This includes getting enough exercise, which has been shown to help not just in overall health, but also for those receiving palliative care. It's all about finding a healthy balance in diet and staying active, rather than relying on extreme dietary restrictions.

Natural Products Available as Dietary Supplements

Cancer patients often explore over-the-counter dietary supplements, which can range from vitamins and minerals with clear ingredients to herbal products with complex and sometimes unknown compounds. Many patients ask about the use of these supplements and their role in cancer treatment. Nature is indeed a source of some anti-cancer drugs – for example, certain medicines have been developed from plants, fungi, and marine organisms. However, it can take many years to fully understand if a natural product is safe and effective for clinical use. Most supplements haven't gone through the thorough testing that's required for conventional medicines. These supplements are widely used, and sometimes patients take them without discussing it with their doctors. They may be attracted to products advertised with appealing terms like "antioxidant," "immune booster," or "detox." Claims that these products can protect healthy cells, boost immune function, or eliminate toxins from cancer treatments are common, although often not scientifically proven. Some natural agents show early promise in research, such as green tea polyphenols for certain types of leukemia, omega-3 fatty acids for breast cancer prevention and treatment, and curcumin for preventing the progression of certain blood disorders to cancer. But in general, most supplements don't have a significant benefit when taken by mouth, and they might even interact with prescription medications or affect hormone levels, which can be problematic, especially in hormone-sensitive cancers. Patients may come across confusing information in news or marketing materials, so it's important to clear up these misunderstandings with simple, straightforward explanations. It’s essential to have open conversations about the use of these supplements to ensure safe and effective cancer care.

Moving Forward With Integrative Oncology

Integrative oncology is about bringing together the best of conventional cancer treatment and helpful complementary therapies. This approach aims to ease symptoms and improve the quality of life for those facing cancer. Nowadays, many cancer centres have set up special departments or programs dedicated to integrative oncology. These programs not only offer supportive complementary therapies but also guide to help patients steer clear of unproven and potentially harmful "alternative therapies." Expert advice from physicians trained in integrative oncology is crucial. They help patients avoid dangerous treatments and focus on what truly helps. Often, referring patients to a specialist is the best way to ensure they're getting reliable information and wise counsel. Through integrative oncology, patients learn more ways to manage their symptoms. They also build stronger relationships with their healthcare providers, become better at taking care of themselves, and see improvements in their physical health, emotional resilience, and overall well-being.

Suggestions for doctor-patient discussions along the cancer spectrum

It's recommended to have a planned method when talking to cancer patients about complementary and alternative medicine. This approach was first outlined in 1997 and has since been updated. Specific guidelines for these discussions help healthcare providers to offer well-rounded advice to their patients regarding various complementary and alternative methods. At ZenOnco.io, we make sure every new patient is informed about the importance of discussing any supplements or self-prescribed medicines with their doctors. Physicians skilled in both oncology and integrative medicine are best equipped to give a comprehensive evaluation of a patient's needs. They take into account both the medical aspects of cancer care and the patient's concerns. The steps for this counselling process are outlined in a sidebar in our materials. However, the practice of integrative oncology can differ depending on who the patients are and where the medical facility is located.

ZenOnco.io: Integrative Oncology for Holistic Cancer Care

ZenOnco.io, founded in 2019, is India’s most comprehensive value-based Integrative Oncology Care provider with a vision to saving and healing lives from cancer. Their approach is holistic, combining integrative treatment with medical treatment to improve nutritional, psychological, and physical well-being. Their mission is to improve the quality of life and increase the chances of cancer cure. They've impacted over 150,000 lives, with 71% having a higher quality of life, 68% reporting less chronic pain, and 61% reporting less stress and anxiety.   ZenOnco.io offers a range of integrative oncology care aimed at enhancing the overall well-being of cancer patients, complementing traditional cancer treatments. Their main offerings include on-nutrition and supplements, medical cannabis, Ayurveda, and mind-body wellness practices such as emotional wellness, yoga, and meditation, which are essential for psychological and physical health. Their supportive care services include physiotherapy, acupressure, acupuncture, reiki healing, home care, nursing services, and palliative care, to ensure comfort and support for patients and families. To talk to a dedicated cancer coach for cancer treatment guidance, or know more about ZenOnco.io, visit https://zenonco.io/  or call +919930709000. They believe everyone deserves the chance to fight cancer with the right nutritional support. ZenOnco.io stands dedicated to ensuring that the essential element of nutrition is not just an afterthought but a key part of treatment to improve patient outcomes.  

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