Integrative cancer treatment strives to encompass the patient in toto
The study of complementary medicine as an approach to treat and prevent cancer dates at least as far back as the 1940s, when the National Cancer Institute experimented with the disputed and now somewhat maligned Gerson regime,Hoxsey therapy,and the use of laetrile. In 1998 the National Institutes of Health set up a formal body known as the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) to investigate the role of the increasingly diverse approaches to treatment,which have come a long way since the first half of the 20th century,in both their sheer number and in the aspects of wellness they are intended to address.By 2007 the National Cancer Institute was supporting more than $121 million worth of research into complementary and alternative approaches.
At the Courtelis Center for Psychosocial Oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine,the approach of care treads on the path of a comprehensive,holistic regimen. Why not,when the results can better a patient’s experience?
“We do know that you can measure a difference in a patient’s immune function and immuno- genicity — you know,the actual molecular biol- ogy of a cancer — and even in quality of life for patients who are undergoing this kind of sup- port with coping versus patients who are not having this kind of intervention,”says Dr.W. Jarrard Goodwin,director of the Sylvester Center.
“A lot of what we do in the center is related to psychological coping with a diagnosis,”Dr. Goodwin continues,“but there’s also advice about nutrition,spirituality,some acupuncture and music therapy.”Dr.Goodwin estimates that greater than 50 percent of the patients at Sylvester utilize at least one complementary approach.Nutrition counseling is often the most popular.
Across the country,though,he says,these types of services are growing in number and in their attractiveness to sick individuals.“It’s certainly becoming more common,”Dr.Goodwin says. “I heard an estimate that as many as 70 percent of patients have some sort of complementary therapy in additon to their traditional cancer therapy.”
Dr.Goodwin cites the American Cancer Society and The Wellness Community as two organizations that make it easier for patients to connect and help each other cope,or to link a long-term survivor with an individual who has received a recent diagnosis.
At the Courtelis Center,continuity is impor- tant.Clinical social workers help ease a patient’s adjustment to illness,while case managers facilitate the next transition — whether that be to a referral to community service or to hospice.
Yet the focus never wavers from a full integra- tion.Relaxation,meditation,imagery and self-hypnosis are all on the list of available services.Acupuncture serves as an evidence- based complementary approach to the manage- ment of pain and the control of the side effects of chemotherapy.The goal is a nurturing atmos- phere on every level possible.
“One of the amazing things for a cancer physician and surgeon is the inspiration that these patients bring back to me,”reflects Dr. Goodwin.“It’s all about creating a positive environment.”