Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. New cancer cases per year may rise to 23.6 million by 2030.1 Yet, The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that at least half of cancer cases in the US could be prevented by lifestyle changes.2

According to the results of a survey that was published in JNCI Monographs, integrative oncology can be defined as a “patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments,” including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and immunotherapy. 3

The nomenclature could be problematic, as the term integrative is often confused with alternative or complementary, despite the fact that these terms are not interchangeable. Alternative practices not derived from Western medicine are modalities used in lieu of any conventional treatments. Complementary medicine is the use of supportive practices as interventional add-ons to conventional treatment. Integrative care, on the other hand — a whole-systems approach — judiciously and strategically merges mainstream and complementary interventions.

Approximately 30% to 50% of cancer patients use complementary and integrative medicine, in large part to mitigate symptoms and enhance quality of life.3 Although the use of alternative medicine alone, in place of conventional treatment, has been shown to shorten survival — and the addition of medicine considered complementary to conventional therapy does not appear to influence mortality rate compared with conventional treatment alone — patient-reported measures may tell researchers about quality of life and more holistic aspects of care.

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Experts advise patients exercise caution when considering the use of antioxidant and other dietary supplements prior to or during chemotherapy, as some of these products cause drug-drug interactions and have the potential to negatively affect survival or increase the risk of recurrence.4

That said, interventions such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or qi gong, for example, are procedures that could increase patient quality of life and improve physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. In turn, these improvements have the potential to positively influence clinical outcomes.