An integrative approach to cancer care treats the disease with surgery, chemotherapy, and other tools, while also supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-informed therapies. See how integrative care works and hear from doctors and patients.
Many patients underestimate how dramatically cancer can affect them, physically and emotionally. An integrative approach to cancer care treats the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and other tools, while also supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-informed therapies.
Integrative cancer treatment means you’ll receive therapies, such as oncology rehabilitation and naturopathic medicine, to help keep you strong, boost your immune system, combat side effects and maintain your well-being during treatment. The goal is to help patients reduce treatment delays or interruptions and get the most out of life.
- Up to 80% of adults living with cancer are malnourished.
- 65% of patients take a natural supplement during treatment.
- 1 in 3 cancer patients continues to experience pain after treatment.
- At diagnosis, 1 in 2 patients has some form of nutritional deficit.
- At least 7 in 10 cancer patients undergoing treatment experience fatigue.
- Fewer than 1 in 5 patients receives spiritual support from a doctor.
Integrative care has two layers. First, conventional treatments attack the disease itself. At the same time, evidence-informed therapies help combat cancer-related side effects. The two together, conventional cancer treatments and supportive therapies, delivered simultaneously by a collaborative team of clinicians—that’s integrative cancer care.
Conventional Treatments + Supportive Therapies = Integrative Care
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs in an effort to slow or stop rapidly dividing cancer cells from growing. It may be delivered by mouth as a pill or liquid, by IV infusion in a vein, as a cream applied on the surface of the skin, as an injection or through a lumbar puncture or device placed under the scalp.
Chemotherapy treatments are used against a number of cancer types, either as a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells; in combination with other treatments to stop cancer cell growth; before another treatment to shrink a tumor; after another treatment to destroy remaining cancer cells; or to relieve the symptoms of advanced cancer.
Cancers are as different as the people diagnosed with them, driven according to the DNA encoded in their cells. Genomic testing examines tumors at the cellular level, identifying the molecular abnormalities that are dictating how they grow and behave. This allows oncologists a better understanding of the complexities of each patient’s cancer. It may also help them identify cancer treatment therapies that have been used to target changes in the genomic profile of similar tumors. Often called precision cancer treatment, genomic testing is the standard of care for a number of cancers. But advanced genomic testing, which take the assessments a step further, are only recommended to patients in certain circumstances.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced in endocrine glands such as the thyroid, pancreas, the ovaries in women and testicles in men. For some cancers, such as breast and prostate, hormones may encourage cancer cell growth. But they can also kill other types of cancer cells, or slow or stop them from growing. Hormone therapy, a systemic therapeutic approach, targets the body’s hormones—by adding, blocking or removing them from the body—in an attempt to slow or stop cancer cell growth. This form of treatment often involves medications designed to starve cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow. Or it may involve the surgical removal of glands that produce hormones.
Sometimes, cancer forms when the immune system breaks down or malfunctions. Also called biological therapy or biotherapy, immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, either by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells or providing it with antibodies or other tools to combat it. Monoclonal antibodies, for example, are man-made versions of immune system proteins that can be designed to attack a specific part of a cancer cell. Cancer vaccines, on the other hand, are designed to trigger the immune system to counteract certain cancer cells. Non-specific immunotherapies stimulate the immune system to increase a certain activity that discourages cancer cell population or growth.
Radiation therapy uses targeted energy, such as with X-rays or radioactive substances, to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors and alleviate cancer-related side effects. A number of radiation therapy methods are used against a broad range of cancer types. External beam radiation therapy, for example, directs radiation from a machine outside the body to cancer cells within the body. Internal radiation therapy places radioactive material, through a catheter or other device, directly into or near a tumor. With systemic radiation therapy, a radioactive substance is swallowed or injected, then travels through the blood to locate and destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used as a primary or secondary treatment, or in combination with other treatments.
Surgical oncology is a vast anti-cancer treatment field consisting of many platforms, devices and technologies. Surgery is the oldest form of cancer treatment and is also used to diagnose and stage cancer, and to manage a number of cancer-related symptoms. In terms of extracting tumors, for example, surgery may range from a lumpectomy to amputation or organ removal. Surgery may also be used as a diagnostic tool—through a biopsy, for example. And it can be used to reconstruct the body, such as after a mastectomy. For many patients, surgery is combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are used either pre- or post-operatively.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that gently applies fine, sterile needles to specific areas of the body.
Chiropractic care focuses on disorders of the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems and how these disorders impact general health. It may be used to relieve pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles.
Mind-body medicine uses psychosocial support or therapeutic relationships as an integral part of whole-person care that recognizes the powerful ways emotional, mental, social and behavioral factors can directly affect a cancer patient’s health.
Naturopathic medicine provides therapies to help with side effects, immune function and quality of life, including herbal remedies and dietary supplements.
Nutrition therapy is designed to help prevent or correct malnutrition, restore digestive health and provide dietary supplements, homeopathic remedies and other therapeutics.
Oncology rehabilitation uses a wide range of therapies to rebuild strength and endurance and restore quality of life. It includes physical, occupational, massage, manual and speech therapies and other techniques.
Pain management is a medical field focused on reducing pain and improving quality of life, at any stage of cancer, by using prescription medications, implanted pain pumps, nerve block therapies and other techniques.
Nurturing your faith can help you better cope with the challenges associated with cancer. Spiritual support may include individual or group prayer, spiritual counseling, worship services, classes or other services.