BEYOND STANDARD CANCER TREATMENT:
Caring for the Whole Person
BEYOND STANDARD CANCER TREATMENT:
Caring for the Whole Person
Cancer and the powerful therapies used to treat it can affect a person’s quality of life in many ways. The symptoms of the disease and the side effects of care can sometimes take a major toll on the body. That’s why many patients choose to incorporate certain complementary medicine and wellness approaches into their care plan. These approaches, collectively known as integrative medicine, can help many people regain a sense of control, manage these side effects, improve their overall well-being, and feel more like themselves.
Another way to think about it may be that conventional treatment is more about targeting the disease, and integrative medicine focuses more on healing the whole person.
Unlike alternative medicine, which uses unproven methods instead of conventional treatments, evidence-based integrative medicine therapies help patients as they undergo immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. “Another way to think about it may be that conventional treatment is more about targeting the disease, and integrative medicine focuses more on healing the whole person,” says Jun J. Mao, MD, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).
For 20 years, MSK has offered its patients holistic support through its Integrative Medicine Service, offering trained experts who work directly with cancer care teams at the center. The service also conducts research to understand how integrative therapies can be used to better control or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Integrative medicine therapies typically fall under three major categories:
including meditation, yoga, massage, and acupuncture
including nutrition, sleep, and exercise and fitness
which focuses on safely using herbs and supplements while avoiding unnecessary drug-herb interactions during cancer treatment
Studies have demonstrated that these tools can enhance quality of life, increase self-awareness, and prevent and manage a broad range of physical and emotional side effects.
The following are just a handful of complementary services that have been shown to help some people manage side effects of cancer treatment:
Acupuncture is a safe, painless therapy that uses very thin needles along with heat, pressure, or electricity to stimulate points on the body to promote balance and address specific symptoms. Acupuncture can help treat chronic pain and other side effects associated with cancer treatment.
In women with breast cancer, for example, acupuncture has been shown to reduce joint pain and decrease hot flashes and anxiety. Acupuncture is also regarded as a powerhouse remedy for dry mouth, which is common after radiation to the head and neck or when taking certain medicines.
The most-researched form of meditation is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). During MBSR meditation, people sit quietly and pay attention to their thoughts and feelings without judging them. In people with cancer, MBSR has been shown to improve distress, mood, anxiety, cancer-related cognitive impairment, and general well-being.
“We found the strongest evidence of benefit from mind-body therapies, such as meditation, yoga, and stress-reduction techniques,” says Gary Deng, MD, PhD, Integrative Medicine Specialist at MSK. “They should be considered as a routine part of care for most people with cancer.”
MSK offers an online library of guided meditations to help patients continue practicing meditation.
We found the strongest evidence of benefit from mind-body therapies, such as meditation, yoga, and stress-reduction techniques. They should be considered as a routine part of care for most people with cancer.
People with cancer can achieve physical and emotional health benefits from practicing yoga. In fact, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and Society of Integrative Oncology (SIO) recommend yoga for relieving anxiety, reducing stress, coping with depression, alleviating mood disturbance, and improving quality of life in people with the disease.
MSK offers a program called Yoga for Core Strength that helps safely build abdominal muscles while protecting joints and the lower back. It is also a safe class for people experiencing post-treatment side effects, including neuropathy and joint pain.
Qigong and tai chi are ancient Chinese traditions that combine movements with meditation and breathing exercises.
Qigong has been shown to improve lung function, mood, sleep, and quality of life, as well as reduce stress, pain, anxiety, and feelings of unusual tiredness.
Tai chi combines gentle and graceful movement with meditation to promote better physical and mental functions. Studies show that tai chi helps decrease the risk of falls, improve balance, and build confidence. Tai chi has also been shown to improve sleep and reduce inflammation that is linked with many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
There are some similarities between qigong and tai chi, and they are often practiced together.
Determining whether herbs, vitamins, and other over-the-counter dietary supplements would be helpful or harmful can be challenging.
For example, some natural products have been shown to help reduce certain cancer-related side effects like fatigue or constipation. However, they are not appropriate for all patients, and larger clinical trials may be needed to confirm their safety and efficacy. In fact, some herbs and supplements have been shown to interact with certain medications and even compromise the anti-cancer effects of chemotherapy or radiation. “Just because it is natural, it is not always safe,” cautions Dr. Mao.
“It is vitally important to discuss these products with a physician who understands their benefits and risks, especially in people with cancer,” says Dr. Mao.
Expert advice is available, such as the About Herbs database at MSK. Maintained by a pharmacist and botanical authority in MSK’s Integrative Medicine Service, this comprehensive online library of evidence-based information can help patients and their doctors learn about the potential value and possible dangers of using common herbs, dietary supplements, and other products.
“They should look for an institution that is experienced in utilizing complementary therapies to manage the side effects of treatment among people with cancer,” notes Dr. Mao. “This will ensure that patients receive a customized, holistic care plan that includes options to help support their recovery and health, along with a skilled team to help them safely achieve their specific goals,” he adds.
https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/diagnosis-treatment/symptom-management/integrative-medicine/mind-body; https://www.mskcc.org/blog/meet-jun-mao-msk-s-chief-integrative-medicine; https://www.mskcc.org/blog/five-natural-remedies-dry-mouth-xerostomia
https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/integrative-therapies-cancer-treatment; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/therapies/meditation; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/diagnosis-treatment/symptom-management/integrative-medicine/multimedia/meditations
https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/therapies/qigong; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/therapies/tai-chi; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/integrative-therapies-cancer-treatment
https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/diagnosis-treatment/symptom-management/integrative-medicine/herbs; https://www.mskcc.org/blog/what-cbd-oil-and-can-it-help-people; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/diagnosis-treatment/symptom-management/integrative-medicine/herbs/herbs-botanicals-other-products-faqs
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