“Every challenge is an invitation to a happier place than you ever knew existed.” — Mike Dooley, Beginner’s Guide to the Universe

Integrative oncology is the application of integrative medicine to the care of cancer patients and their caregivers. It combines conventional medicine, complementary therapies and lifestyle approaches in a manner that’s comprehensive, personalized, evidence-informed, and safe in order to achieve optimal health and healing.

To be clear, this isn’t about using untried, unproven or alternative remedies for cancer instead of conventional, evidence-based cancer treatments. It’s totally about improving the quality of life of those undergoing cancer treatment and during survivorship. Integrative oncology further aims to reduce cancer recurrence, mitigate side effects of treatment, and decrease non-cancer related morbidity and mortality risk in survivors such as death from cardiovascular disease or other conditions including second cancers.

The integrative oncology initial consultation, usually about an hour, is with an integrative physician or advanced practice provider. They and the patient explore multiple areas of lifestyle, stress, exercise, nutrition, sleep and disease or treatment-related symptoms.

Recommendations may include acupuncture, oncology massage, an exercise and physical rehabilitation program, guided nutritional counseling and/or behavioral health counseling. Integrative oncology practitioners can advise about the appropriateness and safety issues of various botanicals and supplements and special diets during active treatment and their roles in the survivorship period. Other options may include meditation, music therapy including group drumming, tai chi, qi gong or yoga.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Gabriel Lopez and several members of the new MD Anderson/UTMB League City Campus oncology team. Dr. Lopez gave a presentation on integrative oncology to an audience eager to expand these services from the MD Anderson Texas Medical Center campus to our joint League City location.

Former UTMB fellows, Drs. Karen Welch, Rob Slater, Sam Mathis and I have offered integrative oncology consultations for several years here in Galveston and League City. Partnering with MD Anderson’s integrative oncology team will be a real game changer in terms of quality, quantity, and access to holistic care of cancer patients and survivors. It will be an educational opportunity as well for medical branch students, fellows, faculty, and other learners in this valuable dimension of cancer care.

How many of these pro grammatical elements and when they will be rolled into our oncology program at the League City campus is a work in progress. Some may be available only in Houston or Galveston, or by telemedicine and online resources.

Let’s close with Millie’s story, a 52-year-old woman who has completed her breast cancer treatment. During therapy, she gained 20 pounds, stopped exercising, and is now fatigued, depressed, and with neuropathy due to her chemo. Uncertain what to do next, she scheduled an integrative oncology consult. After a comprehensive review of her case, a treatment plan included nutritional and behavioral consults, a fitness plan, and acupuncture for her neuropathy. Six months later, she has lost weight, improved her mood, is sleeping better, and is in less pain.

Cancer survivors of all kinds have issues similar to Millie’s. Our integrative oncology team is going to be there to help. For more info visit www.mdanderson.org/integrativemedcenter or ask your medical branch doctor for a referral to integrative medicine.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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