Integrative Oncology: A Holistic Approach to Cancer Care

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

This article was last updated on Feb. 21, 2017

Cancer can affect your entire mind and body. Although we typically associate cancer with one area of the body, the disease can affect far more than a single organ or region of our bodies.

Integrative oncology  takes a  holistic approach to managing side effects that come with cancer treatment, recovery, and survivorship. Combining integrative therapies with conventional medicine (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery), integrative oncology creates a cohesive approach to your care.

With an integrative oncology team, your care plan goes beyond your diagnosis and symptoms to look at your support system, cultural and spiritual beliefs, and your goals.

What Treatments and Therapies Are Used?

Integrative oncology combines a range of therapies and general lifestyle practices to help you heal, manage side effects of treatment, and improve your overall quality of life before, during, and after “cancer” became a part of your life.

Therapies incorporated into your care plan roughly fall under the categories of movement, touch, nutrition, and mindfulness. Examples include:

    • Music, arts, and expressive therapy
    • Meditation
    • Yoga and other forms of physical exercise
    • Acupuncture
    • Massage
    • Aromatherapy
    • Lifestyle Nutrition

What Are the Benefits of Integrative Oncology?

Therapies chosen within an integrative oncology program are those that have been shown most effective in helping patients with the most common side effects associated with cancer and its treatment. Conventional medicine like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy have side effects that are tough to handle despite our best efforts and all of the progress in the field.

Such cancer side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Pain
  • Mind-body
  • Energy therapies and body work (Reiki, Shiatsu)

Using integrative oncology to lessen cancer symptoms

An integrative approach can decrease symptoms and improve quality of life.

When you feel bad, it’s harder to recover and to remain positive to continue treatment. You have a lot of options to help you. For example, if you are struggling with pain, you may want to consider acupuncture instead of or along with pain medications.

Fatigue is also a common side effect of cancer itself and many treatments. Your body has a lot to overcome. Physical activity and yoga, to the extent you’re able, can help you regain some strength and energy.

It’s important to make sure that any integrative therapies, especially supplements, considered during cancer therapy are discussed with your oncologist. Cancer is a complicated disease and is best managed by your oncology doctor and your care team.

By receiving care at a cancer center with a dedicated integrative oncology program, you can be sure you’ll receive the safest and most comprehensive advice and guidance.

Want to learn more about integrative oncology, including yoga and other practices for cancer patients? Check out our Medical Mondays segment focused on integrative oncology.

UPMC CancerCenter

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we are your doctors, caregivers, teachers, and support system. You are not alone in your fight against cancer, and we are committed to providing you the knowledge, inspiration, and specialty cancer care you need so you can face your diagnosis with confidence. We’re here for you – as part of the community – and that’s something cancer can never take away. Read More