Patients benefiting from integrative oncology
Focus on evidence-based medicine improves outcomes, quality of life
By Meghann Finn Sepulveda
A truly unique offering at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert is the new integrative oncology program, a specialized approach incorporating lifestyle and complementary strategies into cancer treatment.
The personalized program is designed for people at risk for developing cancer, patients undergoing treatment and cancer survivors. The goal is to give patients back a sense of control.
A team of integrative oncologists specialize in what’s considered a very new holistic program that involves caring for the whole patient including the mind, body and spirit.
“The program itself is unique,” says Santosh Rao, medical and integrative oncologist, Banner MD Anderson. “We are able to aggressively treat cancer patients with evidence-based medicine and also take into consideration lifestyle and social needs to ultimately improve outcomes and quality of life.”
Diljeet Singh, M.D., gynecological oncologist and medical director of the program, and Rao are fellowship-trained in integrative medicine under the direction of Andrew Weil, M.D.
Rao and Singh are two of only a handful of integrative oncologists in the country. They collaborate with a team of experts to review and assess each cancer patients’ diagnosis to determine lifestyle needs and encourage social support.
Integrative oncology includes safe and effective evidence-based alternative medical treatment strategies that work to heal the entire body.
“Patients greatly enjoy and benefit from therapies such as acupuncture,” Rao says. “In combination with chemotherapy, it has been extremely successful in helping with side effects such as nausea and neuropathy.”
Additional techniques include yoga, meditation and breath work for pain, stress relief and fatigue, along with spiritual assessments. Caregiver support is also available.
Patients who participate in the integrative oncology program remain under the care of their primary oncologist for ongoing treatment. The program is designed for patients seeking out complementary medicine treatment or at the recommendation of their physician.
“We have a team approach,” Rao says. “We work together to determine the best plan of care for each patient. Currently integrative oncology patients are only seen one day a week in clinic, but the program is expanding. We are very busy and hope to begin seeing patients at least three days per week in the fall.”
At risk patients
For individuals considered at risk for developing cancer, integrative oncology consultations are a good opportunity to review cancer risks and determine prevention lifestyle recommendations, such as dietary modifications and incorporating physical activity into daily routines.
Cancer survivors can significantly benefit from integrative oncology services. Coping mechanisms such as stress management and nutritional planning, along with reducing symptoms and side effects following treatment are all an integral part of the program.
Outlook on future
While integrative oncology is positively improving lives of cancer patients, there are challenges.
“The main challenge is determining how we can make these treatments not only efficient but cost effective,” Rao says. “We are trying to develop a standard of care in the field of integrative medicine. We are confident in our ability to improve the quality of life for our patients.”