Cancer has long been considered devastating, largely because of how quickly it spreads to attack multiple systems and because the treatments can be so debilitating. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), 2018 will see over 1.7 million new cases of cancer in the United States. Furthermore, it is estimated that cancer will claim the lives of over 600,000 Americans this year.
Integrative Cancer Care Aids in Better Results
The news is not all bleak, NCI is also estimating that by the year 2026, the number of cancer survivors in the United States will increase from 15.5 million to 20.3 million as diagnosis and treatments improve. One of those newer treatment options offering promise is integrative cancer care.
What is Integrative Cancer Care?
Integrative cancer care involves comprehensive support through each stage of a patient’s journey (from diagnosis to treatment decisions, restoration of immune function and survivorship). An integrative approach to cancer care treats the disease with any combination of the following, including surgery, chemotherapy and other tools, while also supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-informed therapies from traditional and naturopathic medicine. In integrative oncology, patients work with an oncologist or naturopathic oncologist and team of clinicians to develop a customized integrative approach that may include nutrition and lifestyle suggestions, counseling, pain management, mind/body medicine, acupuncture, botanical medicine and nutritional support. Integrative care continues with recommendations tailored to every aspect, from remission to active treatment to compassionate end-of-life care. The goal is to improve not just the quality of life of people living with cancer, but also to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Why Seek Integrative Cancer Care?
Integrative cancer care is used to “help patients reduce treatment delays or interruptions and get the most out of life.” One of the biggest problems for cancer patients undergoing traditional treatments are side effects associated with chemo and radiation therapies. For instance, many patients cannot keep down food and, as a result, lose their appetites resulting in 80% of them being malnourished. Similarly, 33% of patients experience pain even after the treatments have ended and 70% of them experience fatigue from the treatments. Integrative care combines these traditional treatments with evidence-based supportive therapies to help manage side effects, resulting in a better treatment outcome due to the collaboration of the medical and naturopathic clinicians. Besides helping with symptom alleviation during treatment, integrative care can be used to help educate patients at the time of diagnosis and assist with recovery after the medical treatments are completed as a means of bringing the patient back to full health.
For Cancer Care Patients: Understanding the Benefits of Whole-Person Care
For patients, this type of collaborative approach to cancer treatment can be of great importance and help. Behind the concept of integrative or complementary care is a philosophy that is at the core of naturopathic medicine – treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. As Sharon Gurm, ND, FABNO points out, one of the reasons she got into this profession is because “I realized I wanted to practice medicine differently—in a way that embraced whole-person healing, not just treating the disease.”
Many facing cancer feel their humanity gets lost due to such a focus on taking care of the cancer diagnosis. The rigors of cancer treatment can cause anxiety/stress, depression, digestive issues, nutritional problems, fatigue, nausea, insomnia, numbness and pain. But when paired with naturopathic supportive therapies, patients report much better experiences. As Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO of Integrated Health Clinic in Fort Langley said, NDs are “able to provide the highest standard of integrative cancer care.” Michael Traub, ND, DHANP, FABNO points out that “the combination of naturopathic and conventional oncology work better than either one alone.”
The use of such supportive therapies as acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, pain management and even spiritual support “truly meet patients where they are and work with them” as it “embraces science, available evidence and a rational individualized approach to care that is safe and effective.”
Students of Naturopathic Medicine: Understanding Naturopathic Oncology
For those interested in pursuing a career in naturopathic medicine, it is important to consider a career in naturopathic oncology.
“My passion for pursuing a career in oncology was reinforced while studying medical genetics at University of British Columbia and clinical research at the cancer agency. The medical and radiation oncologists I worked with were inspirational and became my mentors. It’s a journey and process of growth—personally, academically, professionally. If you are considering naturopathic oncology as a career, pursue long-term preceptorship opportunities with naturopathic oncologists and if you are still inspired, then consider applying for a Council on Naturopathic Medical Education accredited naturopathic oncology residency.”
Although cancer treatment is often thought of as a very taxing specialty, both Dr. Parmar and Dr. Seely praise the collegial attitude of NDs in oncology. Dr. Parmar mentions specifically that “I cherish our annual meeting and every opportunity I get to collaborate and work together” while Dr. Seely adds “The community of naturopathic oncologists is a super collegial, bright and dedicated group of NDs. There are also allied health care professionals with like-minded goals who can really help as well and are fun to work with. “
Ultimately, if you are interested in pursuing a career in naturopathic oncology, there are some things that you have to keep in mind.
You have to not only have respect and rapport with your colleagues, but you also need to “be prepared to embrace both the intellectual and spiritual challenges of this field. You need to achieve and maintain balance in life to sustain the energy and resilience demanded of you. Dedication to spiritual practice, to staying physically active and cultivating a spirit of joyfulness are vital.”
Naturopathic cancer care brings about the best of both worlds. By integrating the traditional medical approach to treating the disease with the naturopathic approach to treating the patient and his or her individual root issues, it helps the patient deal with one of the harshest diseases they may face.