What is Integrative Oncology?

In any cancer treatment regimen, you will likely encounter many different conventional cancer therapies, from chemotherapy to immunotherapy to radiation treatments and beyond. While they are healing and necessary, these can also often be taxing and damaging to the body. As such, in the past twenty years, a new field called Integrative Oncology has sprung up as a way to more holistically manage patients’ quality of life and overall health while under treatment for cancer.

In short—according to an article in JNCI that attempts to succinctly define the practice— Integrative Oncology is a “patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments.” Integrative medicine as a whole has long been been practiced in the United States, but in the last few decades the field of Integrative Oncology has grown substantially and gained increasing traction and attention.

There are many things that fall under the umbrella of therapies that might be incorporated into an Integrative Oncology treatment regimen. Possible treatments include such diverse options as music therapy, acupuncture, reiki, natural supplements, yoga, hypnosis, massage, and meditation; such treatments may also be referred to as “alternative medicine” in certain circumstances, although they are often synonymous. These are not a replacement for conventional treatments, but can often be used as a supplement. The main goal of these treatments is generally to alleviate side effects of conventional treatments such as pain and anxiety, although sometimes they can also be targeted to increase the efficacy of other conventional treatments being used. The specific combination of treatments employed are often specific to unique cases and patient needs.

Some concerns with integrative oncology that have sprung up over time include potential concerns with unknown negative interactions between different medications, particularly when employing natural supplements or any non-conventional treatment that is administered through an IV. It is very important to consult with your doctor before embarking on any new treatment regimen to make sure it is safe and appropriate for your specific situation. Given concerns with treatments that are ingested into the body, movement therapies such as yoga and energy therapies such as reiki have proven particularly popular over the past several years as effective supplemental treatments for cancer, its treatments, and its side effects. Any non-conventional treatments incorporated into Integrative Oncology are typically not a replacement for more conventional treatments, but can be very effective when employed in tandem.

In summary, if you are looking for a more holistic approach for cancer treatment, ask your doctor if an Integrative Oncology approach might be right for you today. It is not always covered by insurance across the board, but certain therapies such as massages and acupuncture are sometimes covered; in addition, some integrative cancer centers may provide alternative treatments as part of their services. If available to you, an Integrative Oncology approach can be a valuable route to controlling your cancer and its side effects over time.