Integrative medicine is an emerging approach to care which goes beyond the purely clinical assessment and management of a disease, and instead takes into account the full range of influences that affect a person’s wellbeing, including physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental factors. Integrative medicine seeks to understand the patient’s full range of unique circumstances, and goes beyond treating symptoms in order to address all the complex causes and consequences of an illness. In order to do so, integrative medicine pairs traditional pharmacological medicine with other non-classic approaches to provide a holistic care of the patient.
In the specific case of cancer, integrative approaches focus not only on eliminating cancer cells, but also on ensuring that patients are provided with adequate physical, intellectual, social, and emotional care, taking into account all the aspects of the disease (like the secondary effects of cancer treatment) and empowering cancer patients transforming them from passive subjects into active partners in their healing process. In the last years, many promising results have been reported in the field of integrative oncology, demonstrating the potential of this strategy in ameliorating the lives of not only of cancer patients, but also of cancer survivors. Some success stories include the use of mind-body therapies (like relaxation, yoga or tai-chi), acupuncture, and herbal medicine supplementation (including medicinal mushrooms) in the improvement of quality of life and the management of side effects of conventional cancer therapies.
The field of integrative oncology is entering a new era filled with significant opportunities for growth. However, it is paramount to consider that the successful implementation of integrative strategies on cancer care requires the establishment of rigorous standards of scientific quality to evaluate the efficacy of the proposed new interventions. Only this approach will accomplish the effective coordination of all involved stakeholders in cancer care (including patients, health authorities, medical oncologists, and primary care specialists), which is essential for the attainment of integrative oncology’s goals.
Roldan Cortés, MedSIR.