Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson: Then and Now

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By: Alex De Alvarado, Lisa Gower and Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D.

Lorenzo Cohen_post.jpgAs cancer survivors know, there is much more involved in the cancer journey than just the treatment of the disease. Patients are searching for ways to be active participants in their recovery to ultimately improve their health and quality of life; this is the goal of an integrative approach to oncology care.

Integrative medicine aims to enhance cancer care by creating a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all dimensions of care: physical, psychological/spiritual and social. By doing so, patients can achieve optimal health and healing within the context of their diagnosis, regardless of stage and curability. Integrative medicine makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, providers and disciplines to help patients achieve the best possible clinical outcomes, improve quality of life and help manage symptoms.

The Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson focuses on three main areas: education, research and patient care. The seeds for the program we have today began in the early 1990s when overflow crowds attended workshops involving meditation, music therapy and yoga at the annual Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference.

In the beginning
In 1998 MD Anderson established Place ... of wellness, a center offering complementary therapies. In addition, caregivers, family members and anyone who has been touched by cancer can attend programs (most at no cost). At that time, Place ... of wellness was the first of its kind located on the campus of a comprehensive cancer center. Participant attendance for the first year was just under 2,000.

The education component of the Integrative Medicine Program was established by Stephen Tomasovic, Ph.D., senior vice president, Academic Affairs in 2001 to better educate faculty and staff on complementary and alternative therapies. The Complementary and Integrative Medicine Education Resources (CIMER) website was created to disseminate evidence-based information on complementary and alternative therapies to help patients and health care professionals decide how best to integrate such therapies into cancer care. A monthly lecture series also was established to have expert speakers from around the world present state-of-the-art research and clinical programs in the area of integrative medicine.

In fall 2002, a working group recommended to senior administration that MD Anderson develop a formalized integrative medicine program. The goal was to unify and expand the areas of clinical care, education and research being conducted in integrative medicine across the institution. Under the direction of Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., the program was formally established.

Fast forward to 2010

Since those early years, the Integrative Medicine Program has expanded to include two centers and provides acupuncture, massage and music therapy services, as well as a host of classes on everything from yoga and Tibetan meditation to art classes. Participants have grown to more than 10,000 last year alone.

In addition to these patient services, the Integrative Medicine Clinic, which began consultation services in 2007 (started by Moshe Frenkel, M.D.), is led by Richard T. Lee, M.D., medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program. Dr. Lee, along with a team of health care professionals, provides guidance to patients who wish to integrate complementary and integrative medicine into their conventional cancer care. 

Ongoing clinical trials funded by the National Cancer Institute are being conducted in the area of mind-body medicine (meditation, Indian-based yoga, Tibetan yoga, Tai Chi/Qigong), preclinical and clinical trials of natural products, and acupuncture. In addition to the CIMER website and monthly lecture series, the educational component offers an array of courses and training opportunities including: introduction and overview to integrative medicine; rotations for medical students; training courses for massage therapists; and an internship training program for undergraduate and graduate students. Observers and visitors come from around the world to learn about what we are doing. 

Integrative medicine is now firmly established at MD Anderson and it is now time to expand the clinical services, research and education across the cancer care continuum.

On Friday, Sept. 24, Dr. Cohen will be the keynote speaker at the annual Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference presenting "Improving outcomes in cancer care: Integrative Oncology and the Power of Lifestyle Change." Conference participants also will have the opportunity to attend breakout sessions and workshops with Integrative Medicine practitioners. The conference is open to anyone wishing to learn more about all aspects of cancer survivorship, new treatments, complementary therapies and breakthrough research, and to connect with others who have been touched by cancer.

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