Comprehensive Care Across the Cancer Continuum: The Role of Integrative Medicine

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The 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicated approximately 38% of adults use some form of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM). This number increases to over 70% among people with cancer.

The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine has defined integrative medicine as the practice of medicine that:

• Reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient
• Focuses on the whole person
• Is informed by evidence
• Makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, health care professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing

Complementary treatments used as part of integrative medicine include: mind-body approaches such as meditation, guided imagery, music, art, other expressive arts and behavioral techniques; energy-based therapies such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, Reiki and healing touch; body-manipulative approaches such as massage and reflexology; whole medical systems such as traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy and Ayurveda; and biologically based approaches such as those centered on nutrition, herbs, plants, animal, mineral, special diets or other products.

CIM therapies not only play an important role in prevention, but also positively contribute to health outcomes. We're at a pivotal point in health care. From Oprah to our local grocery stores, society is inundated with healthy and not so healthy choices. We as health care providers must educate, promote and make available resources and treatments, based on best practices and the evidence, to achieve optimal health and healing. We need to create a culture of wellness by providing comprehensive care.

I recently watched the Feb. 26, 2009, hearing before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee: Principles of Integrative Health: A Path to Health Reform. I was pleased to hear Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) support the role of integrative medicine in the national health care plan: "It is time to adopt an integrative approach that takes advantage of the very best scientifically based medicines and therapies, whether conventional or alternative "... "Today, we are not just talking about alternative practices but also the integration between conventional and alternative therapies in order to achieve truly integrative health."  

The Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson is shifting the focus from sickness to wellness, treating the whole person, and providing a forum for all evidence-based practices. The program's goal is to integrate the best of complementary and conventional treatments using a multidisciplinary approach.  

Increasing the institution's focus on integrative therapies is a testament to M. D. Anderson's commitment to the highest standard of care available for every person living with cancer. I'm proud to be apart of such a cutting-edge institution, and specifically this movement towards wellness.


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