Integrative medicine aims to enhance cancer care by creating a comprehensive, integrative treatment plan that addresses all dimensions of care – physical, psychological-spiritual, and social. It makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, providers, and disciplines to improve quality of life, help to manage symptoms, and achieve the best possible treatment results.

Recent research shows that tumors grow and become malignant not only through genetic anomalies in the cancer cells themselves, but also through factors in the cells’ microenvironment. These microenvironmental factors include, but are not limited to, the ability of the cells to form blood vessels to feed the growing tumor (angiogenesis), the propensity for inflammation and stimulating inflammatory pathways, and suppressed cell-mediated immunity. The tumor microenvironment is the terrain that largely determines whether cancerous cells will grow or not. The body possesses a number of natural defenses that can create a barren, inhospitable terrain for cancer growth. These natural defenses are influenced and strengthened by healthy lifestyle choices such as a proper diet, physical activity, stress management, social connection, and limiting exposure to environmental pollutants.

Modern oncology treatment is focused on destroying cancer cells or blocking cancer-related pathways. This is an essential aspect of therapy. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that truly effective cancer care should simultaneously foster a strong anticancer terrain by strengthening the body’s natural defenses. Existing initial research that follows the tenets of integrative oncology (making changes in lifestyle and behavior) shows evidence that this approach can, in fact, strengthen natural defenses, modify the terrain of the body, and have an impact on long-term treatment results.

It is time to provide our patients the education and clinical tools necessary to support an anti-cancer lifestyle to help them remain cancer free and to improve clinical outcomes, quality of life, and symptom control for those with cancer and cancer survivors. We need to empower people to become active participants in their own health. We need to show them how to best care for themselves; not only because they will feel better if they get involved, but because it’s good science and good medicine.

Further Reading:

- David Servan-Schreiber: "Anticancer - A new way of life." (Viking)

- Andersen, B.L., et al., Psychologic intervention improves survival for breast cancer patients: a randomized clinical trial. Cancer, 2008. 113(12): p. 3450-8.

- Ornish, D., et al., Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study.[see comment][erratum appears in Lancet Oncol. 2008 Dec;9(12):1124]. Lancet Oncology, 2008. 9(11): p. 1048-57.

- Ornish, D., et al., Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2008. 105(24): p. 8369-74.

- Ornish, D., et al., Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Journal of Urology, 2005. 174(3): p. 1065-9; discussion 1069-70.

- Saxe, G.A., et al., Potential attenuation of disease progression in recurrent prostate cancer with plant-based diet and stress reduction. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 2006. 5(3): p. 206-13.

- Saxe, G.A., et al., Biological mediators of effect of diet and stress reduction on prostate cancer. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 2008. 7(3): p. 130-8.