Integrative medicine can be an excellent tool in a preventive, consolidating and alternative approach for patients with metastatic breast cancer, as it can help alleviate side effects by improving quality of life, according to an expert.
Dr. Anna Bausum, Naturopathic Physician in the role of Integrative Oncology Specialist at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emroy University in Atlanta, discussed the use of integrative medicine in more detail at the Metastatic Breast Cancer Summit CURE® Educated Patient®.
She described integrative medicine as an “all together” approach, rather than an “either or else” approach. Bringing integrative medicine to patients with metastatic breast cancer while they are being treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery can hopefully help alleviate side effects and improve quality of life so patients can continue their treatment for their cancer. Some types of integrative medicine include supplements, yoga, mindfulness, acupuncture, massage therapy, diet and lifestyle changes, exercise, and more.
“I think it’s important for a patient to be educated so they can advocate for themselves,” she said in an interview with CURE®. “There is so much going on in this space along the journey, from initial diagnosis to treatment. And that can be very disempowering or violate bodily autonomy and cause stress and anxiety, and people suffer from it.
“If there is a way to empower someone and help them defend themselves, even in their daily life… at home, away from treatment, to take care of themselves and do their better in a very coordinated and safe way. I would say this element of empowerment is the first and most important (part) of why this should be part of everyone’s care plan.
How to integrate integrative medicine
She said that integrative medicine can be applied in three different ways: preventive, integrative or alternative. In a preventive component, “can we rationalize things”, she explained. So, this may include trying to prevent chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy with acupuncture, exercise, diet, or supplements.
“This is an evolving area in medicine where we are learning more and more each year and will continue to refine,” she said. “But fortunately for breast cancer patients, because they take up such a big slice of the pie, if you will, of all cancer diagnoses, the evidence is there. And it’s pretty easy to start plugging, playing and adopting.
In an integrative sense, that could include taking a vitamin D or melatonin supplement in addition to their chemotherapy — which is generally a safe regimen, she added.
“Sometimes it’s okay to take at the same time as the medication, because we’ve confidently eliminated any chance of any (drug) interaction with herbs or an interaction with a drug supplement that can inevitably sometimes cause safety issues or negate the effect we want the treatment to have,” she explained. However, if there is not enough data to support the safety of a specific supplement combined with a patient’s treatment, she will err on the side of caution and not proceed.
Bausum went on to explain that the integrative approach can benefit overall survival and treatment response when taken alongside a patient’s typical treatments. This approach can help improve sleep, depression, pain, and many other mechanisms, which can help a patient better tolerate their treatment.
“If you’re not sleeping well, not dealing with pain well, or not feeling well mentally, are you going to be successful in your cancer treatment?” It’s something that really matters too,” added Bausum.
Integrative medicine in the alternative sense can help patients who are unresponsive to opioids for pain management, for example. She described it as “something that’s either toxicity that’s going to cause a delay in treatment or just unacceptable toxicity to quality of life from another supportive medication.” And alternative medicine, such as lifestyle changes, diet, supplements, and acupuncture, can help boost whatever is missing in their body or suffering from toxicity so they can continue to receive the treatment they need. they need.
“It offers and opens the door to patients who would have been kind of out of options otherwise,” Bausum said.
Why integrate integrative medicine
“Integrative medicine is sort of a term for a wide range of things that people can do,” she said. “And I tell people that ultimately, it may be a supplement, a lifestyle technique, or other types of integrative therapies, I aspire for them to become an active participant in their care. “
She noted that these integrative approaches can not only help the patient, but also their family members or friends who are at risk of breast cancer, mainly preventive approaches.
“They can all benefit from initial primary prevention, while the patient who is actively undergoing treatment will benefit from symptom management and help improve quality of life,” Bausum explained. “So it’s something they can do together and build a community around because meaningful social connections are such an important part of that process as well.”
Before embarking on integrative medicine, Bausum noted, it’s important for patients to consult with their primary care team as well as a licensed naturopathic physician who specializes in their oncology practice. And patients need to know that this is an empowering step to take when they ask, “what else can I do?” »
“I make sure that every patient takes pride in the fact that they are asking themselves what else they can do and becoming this active participant in their care, taking responsibility and there is things I can do on a daily basis that make a difference,” she concluded. .
For more information on cancer updates, research and education, be sure to subscribe to CURE® newsletters here.