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Naturopathic Integrative Oncology – An Emerging Discipline

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Naturopathic integrative oncology incorporates the use of complementary alternative medicines in cancer patients to optimize their health and quality of life.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Infanteena Marily F.

Published At March 8, 2022
Reviewed AtAugust 4, 2023

Introduction:

Naturopathic Integrative Oncology attempts to bring in appropriate CAM therapies that are evidence-based, safe, effective, and synergistically complement the conventional treatment making the treatment as a whole all the more effective through improved or optimized clinical outcomes (especially QoL and OS) and reduced adverse events.

Holistically, it helps manage symptoms, control side-effects of ongoing treatment, enhance the state of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and speed up recovery. An integrated approach to cancer treatment helps increase the number of days a patient can survive and makes the person's life feasible contextually.

What Has Raised the Need for Complementary Alternative Medicines?

Cancer is the most dreaded and complicated non-communicable disease. Some are cured, some get a prolonged life after treatment, and some cannot make it. Conventional cancer treatment can be prolonged, varies from individual to individual, and generally has many side effects that can adversely impact a cancer patient’s quality of life (QoL) and functional status.

There is an ever-increasing demand for complementary alternative medicines (CAM) that the majority of the cancer patients worldwide resort to for:

  • Reducing the side effects of conventional treatment.

  • Enhance the quality of life (QoL).

  • Improve overall survival (OS).

Apprehension of failure of any single line of treatment to effectively arrest or cure the disease prompts patients or caregivers to try out multiple approaches, at times frantically, hoping to improve the treatment outlook (prognosis). Apart from conventional treatment, most patients also utilize meditation, prayer, yoga, acupuncture, herbal or botanical supplements, nutrition, special diets, exercise, homeopathic, other holistic practices, etc., to gain benefits.

Most patients do not disclose their CAM approaches to their primary physicians or oncologists. Any uncoordinated CAM intervention by the patient themselves enhances the risk of drug interactions and adverse events, which can jeopardize the chances of achieving the overall oncology treatment goals.

There is immense scope in the newly emerging field of naturopathic integrative oncology to enhance or optimize the treatment outcomes and at the same time ensure a better quality of life for the patients. However, the benefits of an integrative approach to cancer care are yet to be fully recognized and realized across the horizon.

Cancer is a highly complex disease, and its management presents an enormous challenge for the patient, physician, and caregivers. While the current standard of conventional care demonstrates high clinical efficacy, there still are treatment challenges owing to side effects, drug resistance, and unresponsiveness to traditional treatment of certain aggressive or advanced-stage cancers.

It, hence, requires a strategic, well-researched, and holistic encompassing or integrated approach to control the disease effectively and improve clinical outcomes, especially the quality of life (QoL) and overall survival (OS). It thus facilitates patients to survive longer and live life well throughout by enhancing treatment effectiveness and increasing patient satisfaction.

It allows a customized or individualized integrative treatment for each patient based on his socioeconomic status, clinical history, comorbidities, diagnosis, current treatment regime, cultural or spiritual belief, physical effects, adverse psychological effects, psychosocial, etc. The whole idea is about becoming “fighting fit cancer patients,” who still have cancer but can fight the disease from a state of much better health, with generally improved quality of life (QoL) and overall survival (OS).

How and Where Can Naturopathic Integrative Oncology Help a Cancer Patient?

  • Holistically improve a patient's well-being physically and on the mental, spiritual, and psychosocial dimensions.

  • Ameliorate cancer symptoms and side effects of cancer therapies, enabling patients to live well through improved symptom control, lessened distress levels, and reduced suffering and favorably influence their overall survival (OS) as feasible contextually.

  • To exemplify, symptoms like anxiety, depression, cancer-related pain, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, hiccups, diarrhea, gas or flatulence, mucositis, alopecia, constipation, anorexia, cough, sleep disturbance or insomnia, headache, anemia, peripheral neuropathy, etc., that can be managed effectively using integrative CAM therapies. Naturopathic integrative oncology, thus, not only enhances tolerance to the ongoing oncologic treatment, if any, but also the response thereof.

  • Enhance the functional status or quality of life (QoL) and decrease the rate of complications.

  • Facilitate recovery post-cancer treatment and reduce the chances of recurrence.

  • In line with those mentioned earlier, naturopathic integrative care can be rendered at any point during a patient’s illness to help him feel comfortable.

  • For advanced and intractable malignancies, patients may likely benefit from integrative care in improving the quality of life and adding days to life.

  • Apart from face-to-face patient consultation, naturopathic integrative oncology can also be practiced online. It can be of immense help to improve access to patients who cannot attend the integrative oncology sessions in person due to various social and economic reasons.

CAM Modalities in Naturopathic Integrative Cancer Treatment:

CAM modalities can be one or more of the following as appropriate contextually:

  • Diet and Nutrition.

  • Behavioral or lifestyle changes include regular exercise, de-stressing, relaxation, positive thinking and visualization, psycho-social interaction, yoga, meditation, etc.

  • Botanical medicine.

  • Nutraceuticals or dietary supplements.

  • Massage.

  • Reflexology.

  • Acupressure.

  • Acupuncture.

  • Prayer or spiritual healing.

What Are the Requirements of Naturopathic Integration?

For the complementary alternative medicines one decides to integrate with the current conventional treatment regime, it is essential on the part of the integrative oncology practitioner to clearly understand the following for a seamless and favorable naturopathic integration:

  • The patient’s current status includes his clinical history, diagnosis, comorbidities, conventional cancer treatment regime, physical or psychological makeup, belief system, financial capability, and any other explicit requirement.

  • Evidence-based clinical efficacy and safety profile.

  • Action mechanism, herb-drug interactions, their side effects, and their impact on long-term health.

  • Pharmacokinetics, dosage, mode of administration, etc.

  • The naturopathic integrative oncology practitioner can decide on the appropriate CAM modalities, subject to the patient’s assessed individual needs.

Conclusion:

Integrative oncology involves a patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer that makes use of mind and body practices, lifestyle modifications, and natural products from various traditions along with the use of conventional cancer treatments. Naturopathic integrative oncology is a multifactorial approach that helps in improving the quality of life and lengthening the life of the cancer patient. Therefore, its use should be considered along with conventional cancer treatment to aid in better lifestyle modifications in cancer patients.

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Dr. Pritam Mohapatra
Dr. Pritam Mohapatra

Naturopathy

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