Integrative Oncology

Definition– Integrative oncology is a patient-centric, evidence-based appendage to mainstream cancer treatment that effectively controls physical and emotional symptoms, augments physical and emotional strength, and provide patients with skills enabling them to help cancer patients throughout and following mainstream cancer treatment. 


Integrative oncology is a field of Integrative medicine that addresses symptom control with non-pharmacological therapies, which are also called ‘complementary therapies‘. Integrative or complementary therapies are generally rational and noninvasive. Complementary therapies with standard cancer treatment to address patients’ psychological, physical and spiritual needs established the practice of integrative oncology. The complementary therapies enhance the physician-patient relationship, the quality of cancer care, and the well-being of patients and their families. Integrative oncology intends to optimize health, quality of life, and clinical outcomes across the cancer care continuum and empower people to prevent cancer and become active participants before, during, and beyond cancer treatment.

Difference between complementary and alternative therapies

The acronym CAM (Complementary & Alternative therapies) creates confusion in both patients and medical professionals, as Complementary and alternative conflictingly different categories. These Complementary therapies are evidence-based, manifest safety and benefit values, and use standard cancer therapy, unlike alternative therapies that lack quality evidence that supports their use, and alternative therapies are used instead of the standard cancer therapy. 

Prevailing complementary therapies

The complementary therapies decrease symptoms, improve the overall quality of life, and enable patients to play a role in their care and to reduce cancer symptoms at different cancer stages. There are various complementary therapies:

Mind-Body Therapies: These combine mental focus, breathing, and body movements with helping relax the body and mind. Mind-body techniques focus on interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behaviour to use the mental focus and body to improve function and promote health. Some of these therapies, like meditation(Focusing on breathing or repetition of words or phrases to calm the mind), relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy(relaxing and focusing attention/concentrates on a specific feeling, idea, or suggestion to aid in healing), yoga(systems of stretches and poses, with a primary focus on breathing), tai chi(slow, gentle movements with focusing on the breathing and concentration), music therapy, and qigong(self-healing therapy focusing on vital energy spelt Qi and skill acquisition through great effort spelt Gong), have ancient roots; some are recently developed, like guided imagery(focusing the imagination to create calm and peaceful images in mind, thereby providing a mental escape). The common goal of the above therapies and procedures is to reduce the effect of anxiety, anger, fear, phobia, resentment, depression, and pain while promoting a sense of emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Mind-body therapies do not treat cancer but help in coping with cancer.

Manipulated and Body-based practices: Focuses on working with one or more parts of the body like Massage therapy(applying fixed or movable pressure, holding, and moving muscles and body tissues) also other manual techniques such as Swedish massage(relieving muscle tension by soft, long, kneading strokes, as well as light rhythmic and tapping strokes, on topmost layers of muscles slightly combining with the movement of the joints), shiatsu(pressure points are stimulated often called good pain), tui na(meaning pinch & pull addressing specific patterns of disharmony), reflexology(reflex points on the feet, hands, and head linking to all parts of the body, these reflex points are massaged to relieve tension and treat illness), Thai massage(applying gentle pressure and stretching techniques to relax the whole body), Ayurvedic massage(using Ayurvedic oil massage for multiple health benefits while massaging), and lymphatic drainage(a gentle massage that boosts the lymph fluids movement around the body) is generally provided by massage therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. These practices have evolved from diverse cultures, all focusing primarily on the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues.

Biologically based practices:  Special foods or diets named anti-cancer diet for a cancer patient; even though reduced anti-cancer food cannot promise cancer prevention, they decline, but they help reduce risk. Some over-the-counter dietary supplements are available to cancer patients, including vitamins, well-defined constituents making trace element formulations, and botanical extracts and herbal products often containing many compounds in complex compositions and some unidentified. 

Biofield therapy: Biofield therapy, called energy medicine, believes that energy fields in the body can be used for healing and wellness. Therapists use their hands to pressure or move the body through these fields like reiki(palm healing or hands-on healing technique is used through which universal energy is transferred through the practitioner’s palms to the patient in order encouraging the emotional and physical healing), therapeutic touch(a pseudoscientific energy therapy, the practitioners stimulates healing thereby reducing pain and anxiety).

Whole medical systems: The healing systems and beliefs that evolved over time in different cultures and different parts of the world like, Ayurvedic medicine(ayurvedic treatment for cacner helps in cleansing the body and restoring balance to body, mind, and spirit). Traditional Chinese medicine (It is believed that body health is the balance of two forces called yin and yang. 

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (thin needles are inserted into the body, mainly to relieve pain and treat other conditions like reducing the side effects). Homoeopathy(Uses minimal doses of substances to trigger the body to heal itself).

Naturopathic medicine(Uses various methods that help the body naturally heal itself, like herbal treatments).

Do’s and Don’ts

Counselling by trained and experienced physicians can guide patients in differentiating potentially harmful therapies from helpful ones that address their underlying needs like improving self-care skills and enhance their physical, emotional and overall well-being.

Telling your doctor about your dietary supplements, vitamins if taking any because no matter how safe you think they are and has been taking for years, they may not be proven that it is safe and effective. The complementary or alternative therapies should be considered more if you are combining them with your medicines.

Talking to your doctor about your diet. It is common for cancer patients to have questions about different foods to include in their diet during treatment. 


Cancer, Cancer treatment,  Cancer patients, Coping with cancer, diet for a cancer patient, cancer symptoms, stages of cancer, ayurvedic treatment for cancer, cancer prevention, anti-cancer foods, integrative therapies, complementary therapies, CAM, alternative therapies. 

Reference list

  1. Deng, G., & Cassileth, B. (2014). Integrative oncology: an overview. American Society of Clinical Oncology educational book. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Annual Meeting, 233–242.