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Integrative Oncology: HealthCare Professional Perspective

As a healthcare professional (Integrative Oncology) working in the cancer field, finding content that will help you navigate the cancer journey might be difficult. As health care professionals, it is essential to have sufficient knowledge on how to handle cancer patients, as it is a chronic disease that can have adverse side effects on the patients. It is important to have adequate information to share with the patients looking for advice from a healthcare professional and to expand your knowledge about integrative cancer care while helping your patients through the journey. If, as a medical practitioner, you were not fully aware of integrative medicine, let us take you through the basics of integrative oncology and how you can transcend it. 

Understanding Integrative Medicine in Cancer

 Integrative medicine, in simple words, can be defined as the combination of conventional cancer treatment and complementary therapies to treat cancer. Integrative medicine operates with conventional treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery while also incorporating traditional, complementary treatment methods such as tai chi, yoga, and dietary supplements, to name a few. Integrative therapy helps get the best of both worlds by combining the treatment options, which will help the patients manage the side effects of cancer while also improving the chances of survival and quality of life of the cancer patients. It enables the patients to live a quality life during and after the treatment. Integrative medicine helps patients cope with the long-term symptoms and effects of the treatment and disease. Integrative medicines help enhance the individual’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health by incorporating additional evidence with informed protocols and conventional therapy. 

How does it help Cancer Patients?

Five domain concepts have been introduced that involve manipulative & body-based methods, mind-body medicine, alternative medical systems, energy therapies, and biologically based therapies. Many cancer patients use integrative medicines that show efficacy in prevention and treatment, boosting the immune system, improving well-being, and reducing the symptoms of either the disease or disease treatment, such as nausea, insomnia, and pain. Its intake, as the healthcare professional recommends, helps improve the quality of life of cancer patients during chemotherapy instead of increasing the therapeutic efficacy. Also, emotional distress, depression, insomnia, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms resulting from disease or treatment are mitigated by adhering to integrative medicines. Integrative medicines include some non-biological medicines such as meditation, deep breathing, or acupuncture that show no risk of drug interactions and are further advisable for cancer patients.

Integrative medicine constitutes natural products involving herbs, botanicals, and mind and body practices. The approach of using integrative medicines among cancer patients has involved several medical clinics and cancer centers in fulfilling the demand of the patients by providing integrative medication. Patients often use integrative medicines as per their own will, without discussing their use with their oncologist. This can be dangerous, mainly for oncology patients, who are particularly frail and may require modified holistic treatments. Certain herbs and supplements in integrative medicines interfere with chemotherapy drugs, making them less effective.  Therefore, proper communication between the healthcare team and the patient is essential for successful treatment. 

There might be incidents when the doctor says no, to treatments other than the conventional treatments. This can be due to several reasons. It can be because the doctor is not aware of the benefits of integrative medicine or is unwilling to trust the method or risk the patient’s life. Whatever the reason, as a medical expert, it is crucial to be aware of the advancing healthcare system and help patients with evidence-based methods for better recovery. It is important to educate oneself and others on the benefits and seek help when necessary instead of completely disregarding the treatments. 

CAM therapies & Integrative Medicine 

There is often confusion between the complementary, alternative and integrative treatment methods as the difference between all three. While complementary treatment complements conventional methods, alternative methods completely substitute conventional methods. In the case of integrative, it integrates the traditional, complementary methods and conventional treatment methods to treat cancer patients. However, complementary treatment is not as same as integrative treatment methods. In integrative treatment, the treatment plan for each patient is custom-made, and only certain complementary therapies and methods are adopted. Integrative medicine guides the patient through the cancer journey with appropriate methods that should be taken along with the conventional treatments resulting in a more effective treatment than the traditional treatment, which follows one particular treatment method. Integrative medicine incorporates complementary and conventional medical treatments to provide a custom treatment plan. 

Integrative cancer care finds the most suitable blend of conventional and complementary cancer care instead of simply adding on complementary methods. Integrative Oncology cancer plans can vary for each patient according to various factors. And it is essential to find complementary treatment methods that suit each patient and treat them accordingly. Integrative medicine treats the patient’s body and the patient as a whole, paying attention to the mind, body and spirit.

Cancer Prevention 

There are various methods for the prevention of disease. The goal of the method is to reduce the risk of contradiction. The prevention methods will include diet, physical activity and appropriate supplements, and avoiding harmful materials or behaviors. When the disease or any risk factor is detected, we must immediately take the next step: identify the risk-causing factor and eliminate the same. In the case of cancer, we can take the example of lung cancer. To avoid lung cancer, you will be advised to avoid tobacco and smoking. However, when you are diagnosed with a small cancerous tissue, the next immediate step would be to remove this tumor to avoid any further risk. This early detection can help prevent the rigorous treatment methods and consequences which would have been required if the disease had aggravated. The next step, if the cancer is already affected and you are under treatment, would focus on not letting cancer spread to any other body part. When all these elements are no longer helpful, you must focus on the required treatment and adjunct therapies.

People who are not at risk of contracting cancer should look into the measures to prevent the advent of cancer. Lifestyle changes might help the individual avoid the risk and to live a quality life. However, these risk prevention factors are often unknown to most people; hence, cancer risk remains. These lifestyle changes, which attributes to the changes in the individual, comes under integrative medicine, which aims at the prevention, helps in cure and the aftercare of cancer as an overall treatment. The prevention of cancer methods might be integrative or CAM therapies, which depend upon the patient. If the patient is not comfortable with the side effects of the conventional treatments, they might go for the CAM treatments, which might be more comfortable for them. One of the biggest challenges is convincing people to take preventive measures to ensure safety. But most often, people tend to overlook these preventative measures. To ensure that these people take the necessary preventive measures, the first step is to educate them. Educate them on the disease, the consequences and the preventive measures.  

Complementary or Alternative Medicines or CAM

CAM, or Complementary or Alternative medicines, describe the treatment options that cannot be categorized under the conventional treatment methods. However, complementary and alternative treatments are different from each other. 

Complementary Treatments: These treatments are used along with conventional treatment methods to relieve cancer patients. It cannot be seen as an independent treatment method and accompanies other standard treatment methods. These therapies will help cancer patients improve their condition while undergoing treatment. It can also enable them to cope better with the possible side effects and various symptoms. While medical practitioners initially hesitated to recommend these therapies, now they are slowly recommending them to their patients for better progress and improved recovery. There are various types of complementary treatments available such as :

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Music Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Meditation  

Alternative Treatments: These treatments are used as an alternative to the standard cancer therapies and treatments available. It is seen as an independent treatment option that does not require the assistance of other treatment options. Many people opt for alternative treatment methods despite not being proven effective. As alternative medicines are popular for having less pain-inducing methods, people tend to select that option. However, no concrete scientific evidence exists that this treatment can cure cancer. There are various types of alternative treatment methods are available:

  • Ayurveda
  • Homoeopathy
  • Naturopathy
  • Chinese or Oriental medicine 

Types of Complementary and Alternative Medicines or CAM

Although complementary and alternative medicines are two different terms that have different methods and practices, they are most often used as a whole. These CAM practices have been grouped into five popular categories:

Mind-Body Practices

Mind-Body therapies combine various factors like mental focus, breathing and body movements to enable the body to relax. These practices will help the patients better cope with the symptoms and side effects. There are various mind-body practices, such as:

Yoga: It helps the body through various poses and controlled breathing practices.

Meditation: This will help to align the breathing, enable the patients to remain calm, and allow them to deal with negative emotions and distress.

Guided Imagery: This method focuses on the patient’s positive images and experiences to enable the body’s healing.

Hypnosis: It transcends the patient into a trance-like state where the patient remains more calm and receptive to the treatment and is aware of various emotions and feelings.

Manipulative and Body-based Treatment

In this treatment method, the medical professional will work on treating a body part through direct contacts, such as chiropractic therapy.


Many cancer treatments can induce various side effects, such as weight loss, malnutrition, fatigue, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite, among others. They have properties capable of blocking precancerous cells from developing into malignant cells by interfering directly with tumor cells. The anti-cancer diet mainly consists of food rich in phytochemicals with potent anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. An anti-cancer diet is designed according to each individual’s calorie and nutritional requirements to reduce inflammation. A good diet can help enhance clinical outcomes, manage side effects and improve the overall quality of life.

Natural extracts, nutrients and supplements

Various natural extracts and supplements can aid in cancer treatments. A variety of plant extracts of unprocessed natural chemicals are used to help enhance the innate ability of the body to heal and to increase the efficacy of the various treatments. Natural plants and herbs such as mushrooms, crude natural extracts from green tea, and curcumin are all-natural extracts that aid in cancer treatments


It is a medical system that was developed in ancient India. Ayurveda aims at the overall healing of the body and mind. It uses natural medicines, herbs and extracts and helps minimize harmful side effects. There is very little evidence of the efficacy of Ayurveda against cancer. 

Integrative medicine is designed to treat the patient’s mind, body, and spirit by combining complementary and alternative therapies with conventional therapies. The approach’s primary goal is to improve the patient’s quality of life through appropriate nutrition, supplements, and therapies that integrate specific lifestyle changes based on their requirements.


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