San Diego Cancer Research Institute

Commentary on the recent JNCI article

“Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival”

by Dr. Daniel Vicario, SDCRI Medical Director


Last week I read a new article titled “Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival” published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI). A copy of the article is enclosed here.
After reviewing it and discussing with our team, we decided that it would be a good idea to share this article on our website, and include the commentary below.

In their article, researchers from the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut, found that 280 early stage curable cancer patients (breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers) who rejected conventional medicine and chose to receive only “alternative treatments” had a 2.5-fold higher risk of death compared with those who received conventional cancer treatment. This was observed over a 10-year period (from 2004 to 2013). We also enclose here a copy of a very good write up from Medscape which explains this article very clearly.

There are several very important differences between Integrative Medicine/Complementary Therapies and “alternative medicine”. We have been talking about this for decades.
The first group of therapies are well established healing modalities that complement conventional medicine, improving the quality of life of cancer patients while on standard medical therapies. The providers of these therapies work collaboratively with all involved: physicians, nurses and all practitioners of the healing arts who, in a truly integrative way, work together to focus on the wellbeing of the cancer patients.
The second group, which we describe as “alternative therapies” are those approaches that are offered by isolated practitioners in place of conventional and proven treatments.

There is a long list of natural therapies and modalities that have been proven to be effective. If we are to treat patients with integrity, we need to encourage them to embrace all available therapies that can help them, in a truly integrative way, supporting them to feel empowered as they go through their cancer journey. Unfortunately, not all physicians are familiar with the effectiveness of complementary therapies, and therefore are hesitant to embrace them. Many of us integrative physicians are working on sharing this important information with our medical colleagues. A list of proven integrative modalities can be seen here. Again, as I mentioned before, these are used in conjunction with the appropriate conventional medical therapies. This is what we call Integrative Medicine/Integrative Oncology.

There are several definitions of Integrative Medicine. I would encourage the reader to review the website of the well-established Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM): www.aihm.org. In this website, there are some excellent descriptions. A definition I’ve used for many years is: “Integrative Medicine is bringing together the best that Medicine and Science have to offer, with the riches of nature, the wisdom of the human body, the best in multidisciplinary and multidimensional approaches, the strength of social interactions and the power of the Human Spirit to Heal the whole person in an Optimal Healing Environment”. There is also a well-established Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO): https://integrativeonc.org.

When oncologists fail to listen to their cancer patients’ beliefs, desires and need of incorporating complementary modalities to their medical treatment, this can cause in some situations, for patients to look elsewhere for more gentle approaches and consequently resort to “alternative therapies”.

The bottom line is that we should encourage cancer patients to embrace their cancer treatment from a truly “Integrative Oncology” perspective, which includes the best medical therapies available. These treatments continue to improve, and are becoming more effective with less side effects. We still have a long way to go in making better tolerated medicines and getting cancer centers to fully embrace integration. As many studies have shown, when standard therapies are given in a truly Integrative way, alongside other complementary healing modalities, patients tolerate their medical therapies better, have an improved quality of life and show a more durable response to their treatments.

In my opinion, following Integrative Oncology guidelines, patients will have a better chance to live longer with an improved quality of life.

For more details, please see a recent interview on “Comprehensive Cancer Care: Integrative Oncology” on the University of California TV site (UCTV). Link: http://www.uctv.tv/shows/32223

Daniel Vicario, M.D.
Medical Oncology and Integrative Oncology

August 22, 2017

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