If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you want to ensure you receive the most up to date and proven cancer treatments available. Using integrative methods can make the healing and recovery process easier, both physically and emotionally, and may even extend a patient’s life.
Integrative cancer treatment is when both conventional and alternative cancer treatment methods are used to help a patient become and remain cancer-free. Conventional cancer treatments include radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, which are also known as the standard of practice and advised by most doctors. Unfortunately, these can be uncomfortable and utilize toxic substances, leaving the patient feeling weak or sick.
Luckily, there are integrative cancer treatments available that may be used along with standard methods. These are intended to heal the whole person including body and mind, and may include a variety of methods that help reduce side effects of conventional treatments, enhance standard treatment and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Body Mind Practices
A body mind approach incorporates practices that integrate the power of both to treat cancer. It is based on the body and mind working and healing as one unit, without separation. This type of work is not just theoretical, however, as research has shown us that mental and physical health are inherently connected. Therefore, healing for both are important for recovery to be meaningful and lasting.
This form of integrative cancer treatment is best known for stress reduction and relaxation techniques. These practices help reduce pain, increase wound healing, and reduce stress and anxiety that often accompanies conventional cancer treatment. Many have proven track records, and work well with other treatments, by enhancing them or relieving harsh side effects. Some of these include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Music Therapy
- Creative Therapy
Nutrition is considered a biologically based practice with a focus on helping the patient acquire the extra nutrition needed during cancer treatment. Since conventional methods may lead to malnutrition, this aspect of integrative cancer treatment can ensure the patient consumes enough calories, proteins, healthy fats and nutrients to maintain their strength during recovery.
Anorexia and cachexia are common conditions for patients with cancer, and are good examples of how important the right nutrition is during treatment. These conditions are marked by a loss of appetite, digestive problems, weakness and muscle loss, which can interfere with recovery. A registered dietitian or another experienced professional can work with the patient to help form a nutritional plan, using specific foods and supplements to restore the patient’s health and wellbeing.
Energy Work as a Non-Toxic Approach to Wellness
Various forms of energy work can be incorporated into an integrative cancer treatment program. Therapies such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch or Tai Chi are used to help the patient relax and recover. Cancer treatment is a very stressful time that causes many interruptions in a patient’s life. Using energy methods can help the patient have quiet time and destress, allows the body to let go of the anxiety and heal more effectively.
For example, even though there is no touch from the practitioner to the patient, Reiki has been shown in studies to effectively reduce pain and anxiety. (1) Therapeutic Touch was proven in one study to be more effective for fatigue and pain relief than the control group or a placebo. (2) And lastly, Thai Chi was studied in a randomize controlled trial to help those with chronic pain. (3) Energy work is a promising field in the field of cancer treatment, and these studies all agree that this type of treatment can have a positive role in treatment.
Body Work Therapies
Body work is a broad term used to describe physical techniques that are often associated with ancient forms of medicine. They are used today, mainly by those in alternative health or complementary medicine, and work by alleviating some of the pain and stress that patients experience. For this reason, some methods may be integrated into a patient’s conventional cancer treatment protocol. Here’s how they work:
- Massage is a complementary therapy that helps body and mind. It can relieve pain as the muscles are massaged and relaxed, which then reduces stress. Proven results include a reduction in pain, nausea and anxiety.
- Chiropractic is a treatment in which a specialized doctor adjusts and aligns the vertebrae of the spinal cord. Keeping the spine in line can ensure spinal fluids carry nutrients more efficiently throughout the body as well as reduce pain and headaches. Some chiropractors may offer help by instructing a patient with changes in nutrition or recommend home exercise ideas.
- Reflexology is a type of specialized massage for the feet, hands or ears. It is an alternative to standard massage, as it focuses on the nerve connections from these extremities to the rest of the body. Reflexology practitioners claim a patient can experience full body benefits by stimulating the nerve pathways, which can help alleviate tension, pain and even anxiety.
Although not technically medicine, these types of treatments stem from more ancient practices that have been used in alternative medicine techniques for centuries, around the world. These include acupuncture, homeopathy, and naturopathy and some have a proven and successful track record.
- Acupuncture has a proven track record as an integrative cancer treatment, according to the National Cancer Institute. It has been part of Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and helps alleviate fatigue and nausea, relieves constipation, increases red blood cell count and can even enhance immune cell activity. (3)
- Homeopathy has stood the test of time and uses very small doses of substances to stimulate the immune response. Some practitioners incorporate homeopathic remedies to successfully reduce side effects of traditional cancer treatments, such as stress, anxiety and depression as well as to help control nausea and fatigue.
- Naturopathy is an alternative medicine that focuses on diet, herbs, and other holistic means to treat the whole person. It is a type of integrative medicine that can be used in cancer treatment, and would combine many of the aspects described above. In this case, a person works with a Doctor of Naturopathy, who helps coordinate a complete program based on the patient’s individual needs.
As you can see, there are many integrative cancer therapies. Each one focuses on a different aspect of healing and recovery and when put together, can help treat the whole person instead of just the disease. Working with your integrative cancer treatment center can help you or a loved one find the treatments that will work best for you.
1 Thrane S, Cohen SM. Effect of Reiki therapy on pain and anxiety in adults: an in-depth literature review of randomized trials with effect size calculations. Pain Manag Nurs. 2014;15(4):897–908. doi:10.1016/j.pmn.2013.07.008
2 Aghabati N, Mohammadi E, Pour Esmaiel Z. The effect of therapeutic touch on pain and fatigue of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2010;7(3):375–381. doi:10.1093/ecam/nen006
3 Acupuncture. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2019, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/acupuncture-pdq