What is integrative oncology? Learn more about integrative oncology




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.

The Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center manages the mind, body, and spirit. Learn more. 

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.

RELATED: Learn How Yoga Can Help Cancer Patients

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.