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How Integrative Therapy Supports Cancer Treatment

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Barbara DiScenna, MA, ATR-BC, LSW, LPC with an oncology patient

People diagnosed with cancer face more than just the disease. They also experience challenging side effects from chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. When properly coordinated, evidence-based integrative therapies, including acupuncture, massage and others, can help manage these symptoms. Integrative oncology care is the extra step that can help improve quality of life and reduce the need for additional treatment.

“Integrative oncology doesn’t interfere with traditional cancer care. It’s complementary care designed to safely alleviate the negative side effects and toxicity from treatments and reduce the chances of cancer recurrence,” says Santosh Rao, MD, medical director of integrative oncology for University Hospitals Connor Whole Health.

Easing Symptoms, Improving Outcomes

In particular, integrative therapies help people better tolerate the negative side effects of hormone and chemotherapy treatments. For example, acupuncture has been found to be especially beneficial in reducing pain, neuropathy, joint aches and hot flashes – symptoms that are common with chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

“If cancer treatments are causing lots of side effects, the patient may be unable to continue treatment. But if symptoms are better controlled, effective treatment can often continue. Furthermore, if pain is well controlled, cancer patients tend to live longer,” says Dr. Rao.

Integrative therapies can also help:

  • Safely reduce pain, anxiety, fatigue, neuropathy, nausea and other symptoms.
  • Reduce the need for additional treatments or medications with additional side effects.
  • Promote well-being and quality of life.

The Benefits of Integrative Oncology

Easing pain. For many patients, acupuncture is very effective in relieving pain. Massage might also help. With less pain there is less need for pain medications (such as opioids) that bring additional side effects. Pain relief therapies can be valuable during cancer treatment and after treatments are completed.

Reducing neuropathy. Neuropathy is common with chemotherapy and can be a debilitating symptom. If symptoms are severe, the chemotherapy dose may need to be reduced, limiting its effectiveness in fighting the cancer. For many patients, acupuncture can reduce neuropathy, improve quality of life and reduce the need for other medications. As a result, doctors can continue the full and effective dose of chemotherapy for a quicker, better outcome.

Relieving insomnia. Acupuncture can help relieve insomnia due to pain, while stress management therapies are recommended to relieve insomnia due to anxiety. Better sleep improves wellness and supports healing.

Reducing stress and anxiety. Massage, expressive arts therapy such as music therapy, meditation, mindfulness and yoga can all help to manage stress and reduce anxiety.

Reducing recurrence. Integrative oncology focuses on lifestyle strategies during treatment and afterwards. Diet, exercise and stress management are emphasized for preventing recurrence for many types of cancer.

A Compassionate Partnership

“It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach for patients. Our team understands that it’s about caregiving and paying attention to each patient and respecting their decisions,” says Dr. Rao.

“We have conversations, look at what symptoms and problems the patient is experiencing and design a program to support the individual’s specific needs – what works for them – and then coordinate the care. We personalize the approaches to what the patient would benefit from the most.”

Related Links

The integrative medicine team at University Hospitals Connor Whole Health deliver specialized, expert care for adults and children, including massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, lifestyle and integrative medicine, and mind-body therapy. Learn more about how integrative medicine services can assist you on your path to optimal health.

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