The Canadian Cancer Society defines conventional cancer therapies as mainstream medical or surgical treatments accepted and used in the Canadian healthcare system. The most common treatment choices include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy.
Over the last 30 years, non-conventional medical therapies have crept into the Canadian model of conventional cancer treatments. This has caused a tug-of-war between conventional oncology programs that are resistant to incorporate complementary methods, such as psychosocial, physical and natural approaches to health and well-being during a cancer diagnosis, care and survival.
Non-conventional care options include alternative, complementary and integrative therapies. However, in recent years many experts have recycled the term alternative for complementary because of a deeper understanding of what “alternative” really means.
“I rarely use the term alternative medicine because only three to five per cent of cancer patients remove themselves from conventional care completely and only turn towards alternative,” says Lynda Balneaves, director of the Centre for Integrative Medicine at the Scarborough Hospital in Scarborough, Ont.
DEBUNKING THE “ALTERNATIVE” MYTH
“Alternative is really the substitute, but many people understand alternative medicine as the whole realm of all the CAM therapies (Complementary and Alternative Medicines),” says Dugald Seely, director and founder of Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre and a naturopathic doctor.
“Alternative is instead of conventional care,” adds Linda Carlson, Enbridge research chair of psychosocial integrative oncology at the University of Calgary and head of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre’s Integrative Oncology Program in Calgary, Alta.
She says that she doesn’t advocate a patient’s sole use of alternative therapies because research shows its effectiveness when paired with conventional medicine.
UNDERSTANDING COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE
“Complementary means ‘along with’,” says Linda Carlson.
“Complementary medicine is alongside, not really integrated or coordinated with conventional care,” says Dugald Seely.
Complementary medicine includes natural health products, such as vitamins, supplements, and herbs; mind-body therapies “that you can do with your mind and will have an effect on your body and your health,” says Carlson; manipulative or body-based therapies, such as massage; and energy therapies “based on ideas of manipulating energy fields around the body,” says Linda Carlson. These can include acupuncture, reiki and healing touch.
WHAT INTEGRATIVE ONCOLOGY IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
“Integrative oncology is the idea of combining both conventional treatments with complementary treatments, and combining them and integrating them throughout the cancer journey in a way that is seamless,” says Linda Carlson.
“Integrative oncology does not advocate that [individuals living with cancer] do any of these approaches instead of conventional treatment,” says Linda Carlson. “There are things that you can add to your conventional therapy that might help improve your quality of life, decrease your side-effects and improve your overall well-being.”
“Integrative oncology is bringing in these complementary therapies to help enhance the conventional treatment,” says Linda Carlson. “It’s not an alternative.”
“I would say that integrative medicine or integrative oncology is a discipline which recognizes that evidence that informs complementary medicine should be integrated into standard of care,” says Dugald Seely. “It’s really good medicine.”
By Amara McLaughlin
The Calgary Journal