Before learning how integrative oncology can help a cancer patient, it is essential to understand what it means. Integrative oncology is the use of complementary, non-clinical therapeutic approaches in addition to conventional treatment to obtain optimum health and well-being for cancer patients. It is an ever-evolving field that aims at increasing the efficacy of conventional medical therapies and surgical procedures, reducing pain and suffering, controlling patient distress and other symptoms, and promoting positive mental health in patients. It addresses an individual’s needs as a whole, in a multidimensional manner – body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
Integrative oncology has been described as a patient-centered, evidence-informed approach that utilizes mind-body practices like yoga, meditation, lifestyle modifications, and/or natural products along with conventional cancer treatment in a targeted and therapeutic manner. It combines the best of both worlds – conventional treatment along with complementary non-clinical therapies – which result in reduced long-term side effects and at the same time improve the overall sense of well-being.
Today, more than ever before, millions of people are seeking an approach to health care that is more comprehensive, holistic, compassionate, and sensitive to their needs as people. This is especially true for those dealing with cancer. However, it is essential to note that integrative oncology does not aim to be an alternative to conventional medical and surgical therapies. It instead aims at complementing conventional therapies to provide the best, all-around care to the patients.
The limitations of standard conventional cancer treatment
Conventional cancer therapies include surgery, the use of drugs (chemotherapy) and/or radiation (radiotherapy), and immunotherapy. Research has shown that the conventional only approach to cancer often leaves the survivors with many short to long-term side effects. These include anemia, fertility, sexual issues, sleep disorders, mood disorders, mental health issues, and reduced immunity and many more. Apart from these, there are problems like high toxicity in the body, and high chances of relapse, which in turn reduce the overall survival rate. It has been seen that in absence of any complementary therapy, cancer patients are often unable to cope with these side effects, which not only further deteriorate their health but can also reduce life expectancy. This calls for an immediate change in the current approach toward health care, and the establishment of a holistic and comprehensive system to ensure the best care for patients.
The future of cancer care
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world with the number of cancer cases rising every year. It is safe to say that the world needs a more comprehensive approach to dealing with the devastation that cancer causes to society. One way of achieving that is by building a better treatment and recovery framework for people diagnosed with cancer. This is where integrative oncology comes in.
Evidence suggests that including complementary therapies in addition to conventional treatment has a positive effect on the patient’s overall well-being and quality of life. According to a controlled clinical trial, intervention with complementary therapies plays a significant role in the relief of side effects like pain and inflammation during palliative and supportive cancer care. When a comparison was done, it was found that those cancer patients who received such care showed significant relief in pain as compared to those who did not receive it.
In the conventional approach, the focus lies solely on the “treatment” part and not on ‘recovery’. As a result, many people lose their life not to the tumor but to the after-effects of cancer treatment. A high level of toxicity in the body combined with poor immunity can \ impact quality of life after cancer and chances of survival. Which is why it’s important to have a more holistic system based on recovery and rehabilitation to improve the patient’s quality of life.
Thanks to all the research and trials in this field over the past many years, it has now been ascertained that the integrative approach to oncology indeed provides multidimensional benefits to the patients.
How does integrative oncology help?
Improves effectiveness of treatment
Success of a cancer treatment depends on many factors. The type and stage of cancer, overall health, physical and mental readiness of the patient, pre-existing medical conditions, age etc all these together can determine how well the patient responds to chemo, radiation or surgery. In an integrative program, various non clinical modalities are used in order to enhance the effectiveness of treatment by looking at all these factors. This includes addressing nutritional deficiencies, taking natural supplements to increase strength and immunity, physical therapy, deploying other mind body practices like breathwork, emotional counseling, yoga and meditation and such.
Reduces chances of relapse
Even after successful treatment, there are chances that cancer might relapse. To reduce the chances of cancer relapse, the body must recover well after the treatment. Conventional treatment, be it chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery, fails to address this “recovery” part of the healing process. Hence, there is a need for an approach that ensures that the body recovers well post-treatment. Addressing the nutritional deficiencies of the body, along with practices such as physiotherapy, and acupuncture can reduce pain, inflammation, and other side effects of conventional cancer treatment. Food plays an integral part in this healing journey and learning to eat the right way and leading a strict anti cancer lifestyle is crucial to reduce your chances of relapse.
Improves survival rate
The use of non-clinical complementary therapies along with conventional cancer treatment improves the overall effectiveness of treatment and at the same time reduces the chances of relapse. Both of these factors contribute to an improved survival rate. Patients who receive integrative cancer care have a better chance of beating the disease and increasing the chances of survival.
Focuses on recovery and rehabilitation
It is important to understand that without proper recovery and rehabilitation, any treatment is incomplete and the chances of relapse also increase. When you combine conventional treatment modalities with proper diet, detoxification, physiotherapy, and proper exercise, physical recovery is ensured. Practices like yoga, meditation, pranayama, and music therapy, ensure mental and emotional recovery. They also improve the overall mood as well as the sleep quality of the patient – both of which are necessary for proper healing. Hence, making proper use of all these complementary therapies ensures an excellent all-round recovery and rehabilitation for the patient and helps them get back to normal life soon after.
Focus on mental well-being
Research has shown that stress and depression create the perfect environment in the body for tumor growth and progression, also affecting the overall quality of life. Adversity, depression, and stress have been identified as risk factors whose direct effects include effects on the cellular immune response, angiogenesis, invasion, anoikis, and inflammation. Biobehavioral factors have been shown to contribute to the cross-talk between tumor and host cells in the tumor microenvironment, and stress effects on host cells such as macrophages seem to be critical for many pathways involved in tumor progression. It is not surprising that a cancer diagnosis takes a great toll on one’s mental health. This makes mental health support for cancer patients extremely important. But conventional treatment alone fails to address the mental health needs of the patient. The integrative oncology approach emphasizes the fact that any cancer therapy works best only when the patient is in a positive mindset. To achieve this, it employs techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, sleep therapy, aroma therapy, music therapy, and many more. These mind-body practices play a crucial role before, during, and after the treatment.
Reduces pain and inflammation
One of the common side effects of any cancer therapy is pain. The site can be different depending on the site of the disease. However, the sad news is that conventional therapy does not address it. Surely one can ask their oncologist to prescribe them painkillers, but the relief will only be temporary. However, if acupuncture, chiropractic, vacuum therapy, and other such non-clinical modalities are used, the pain and suffering can be reduced and managed.
Similarly, it is very common for patients undergoing cancer therapy to have inflammation. It develops as a form of the body’s defense mechanism. This inflammation is difficult to treat using drugs. Hence, it is better to tackle it naturally, with the help of a pre-planned anti-inflammatory diet and exercise.
Addresses nutritional deficiency
Nutrition plays a very big role in a patient’s prognosis. What is there on the plate is directly connected to the recovery process. It is also crucial for building immunity and managing weight loss (or gain in some cases) during cancer treatment. Undergoing conventional cancer therapies for a long time depletes a patient’s body of essential nutrients. It is seen that malnutrition is one of the biggest causes of mortality in cancer patients. The integrative approach aims at correcting these deficiencies by introducing the patient to appropriate diet plans that include anticancer and anti-inflammatory food items, and by giving them proper dietary supplementation. This ensures that the side effects of treatment are kept at bay and the body regains its previous immunity status and thus improving the prognosis.
Reduces overall toxicity
Chemotherapy and radiation bombards a patient’s body with drugs and chemicals. The remnants of these chemicals accumulate in the body over time and cause toxicity. This makes detoxification an essential aspect of recovery after cancer.. Detoxification is achieved by a strict and specialized diet that consists of a lot of water, fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. This diet regimen is coupled with physical therapies such as adequate exercise and yoga to achieve faster detoxification.
For the past many decades, mainstream cancer treatment merely meant trying to kill the cancer cells. But with new research and a gradual global shift towards integrative oncology is advocating a more holistic, patient-centric approach to dealing with cancer. What better reason than this do we need to understand that it is indeed the call of the hour to apply this approach in every health care setup? The effectiveness of an integrative approach can be assessed by the fact that it has already been adopted in many developed countries. This indicates that it is indeed the way ahead, a step into the future.
We, at Awaana Health, realise the importance of a holistic, comprehensive, and multidimensional approach to cancer and hence we are committed to improving & extending lives of Cancer patients through resources support and guidance they need to live their best lives.
Our Integrative Onco Nutrition programs follows a holistic framework that incorporates food, mind and body to support healing and wellbeing in Cancer patients.
To know more about how one can benefit from an integrative cancer recovery program, get in touch!