The Modernization of Cancer Care: Paving the Way for Integrative Oncology

By Dr. Sharon Gurm BSc, ND, Naturopathic Physician, Clinic Founder & Clinical Director

An alarming amount of studies are indicating Vitamin D deficiency is a global issue! This fat-soluble “vitamin” is actually a hormone (!), with receptors of its active form 1,25(OH) D (1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D or D3) on virtually every tissue and cell type in the body with physiological effects as diverse as the tissue. Its marriage to Calcium in the importance of bone health earned D3 it’s reputation as the “bone vitamin,” but just as Calcium has an immense range of roles in the body, it is no surprise that D3 is proven to be to be involved in almost every physiological process in the body and linked to an increased risk of a myriad of health issues and diseases, ranging from depression to cancer.

Earlier this month, I attended the 10th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

Presenters from around the globe – MDs, PhDs, NDs and oncologists – delivered compelling evidence that Integrative Oncology improves outcomes, quality of life, survivorship, reduces the risk of recurrence and might be helping to extend the lives of patients with advanced cancer.

Integrative oncology (IO) is an emerging field that looks at the whole person — body, mind, and spirit. It incorporates evidence-based mainstream oncology practices (such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) with therapies considered to be complementary (such as nutrition, naturopathic care, yoga, meditation).

Encouraging Stats for Advanced Colon, Breast & Ovarian Cancer

Dr. Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, Lac, from the School of Public Health at the University of Washington and the Bastyr University Integrative Oncology Research Center (BIORC) presented data collected by her and her team on survival to answer the most common patient questions: “How long am I going to live and what is my quality of life going to be?”

The stats are encouraging. Since 2009, the BIORC has treated 8 patients with stage IV colon cancer. Three years after the initiation of their care, 80% were still alive; only 15% of Seattle Cancer Care patients in this group were alive at 3 years.

Of the 12 consecutive patients with stage IV lung cancer treated at BIORC, 64% were still alive at 3 years. This compares favorably with the 15% reported by Seattle Cancer Care and the 3% reported by SEER (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results).

The BIORC has treated 12 patients with stage IV ovarian cancer. Median survival is 2 years, which is about the same as reported in the published data. “But I am encouraged that our 4- and 5-year survival will be better,” she noted. “In the literature, the highest survival at 5 years is 18%.”

Preventing Recurrence

Dr. Standish and colleagues also looked at preventing recurrence. “We’ve now had 11 consecutive stage III ovarian cancer patients. At 3 years, 83% of them are still alive,” she said. “The SEER national data report 49%. So a hypothesis is generated — integrative oncology may prevent or delay recurrence.”

At BIORC, intravenous therapies are used. The researchers compared patients with stage IV breast cancer who had received intravenous therapy with those who had not. “Right now, it looks like there might be a better outcome for stage IV breast cancer patients who received it,” she said.

Of 46 patients, 18 received intravenous therapy. At 3 years, it looks like there might be an effect. “Right now, 100% of patients who received intravenous treatments are alive, compared with 70% who didn’t,” she said.

Their treatment and outcomes data suggested a hypothesis that the combination of artemisinin (a herb used to treat malaria and currently being studied across the globe for its role as an anti-cancer agent) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is especially effective in breast cancer.

A better grasp of the effect of integrative oncology is in the works. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has given funding for Dr. Standish and her team to conduct a matched comparison study of breast cancer. “We started in 2010 and have enrolled 571 patients to date,” she said. “What is exciting is that we are now into this sufficiently that we know the groups are well matched.”

“That means that we have a really good chance of seeing the outcomes of integrative oncology,” she concluded.

Mindfulness Improves Sleep In Cancer:

According to randomized study presented at the SIO conference, mindfulness meditation (MM) and mind-body bridging (MBB) improve sleep disturbance and overall survival in cancer patients. Consistent with results of many other studies on mindfulness-based interventions, participants also reported improvement in several other quality of life parameters, such as depression, pain and anxiety. “Mindfulness is an is an important tool that is gaining interest and acceptance,” said Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, director of the integrative oncology initiative at the Abramson Cancer Center at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

To learn more about the integrative oncology services offered at our clinic, call (604) 949-0077.

Source: 10th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO): Abstract 79. Presented October 21, 2013.

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