The Integrative Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is a program in which studies are done on integrative medicine for cancer patients. Integrative medicine is one in which the whole-body approach is used to treat a disease, in which some holistic ancient forms of alternative therapies are used in conjunction with traditional western medicine. Dr. Lorenzon Cohen, professor at M.D. Anderson’s Departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science and director of the Integrative Medicine Program, describes integrative medicine in The Houston Chronicle:
“We focus on the relation between the practitioner and the patients, and we are informed by evidence – we don’t want to be prescribing things to our patients for which there is no evidence of safety or of benefit. Also, in integrative medicine we seek to make use of all possible avenues for healing that may work.”
This differs from both alternative medicine and complimentary medicine – the former uses holistic treatments in place of traditional medical treatments, while the latter is similar to integrative medicine but uses even unproven types of alternative medicine as long as it does no harm to the patient (such as having a patient maintain a certain healthy diet that is not proven to be effective on healing). By combining only methods of treatment for patients that have been shown to have positive results, they are able to offer a more effective treatment regimen.
As stated on the website, the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Program seeks to “engage patients with cancer and their families to become active partners in their own physical, psycho-spiritual, and social health through personalized evidence-based clinical care, exceptional research, and education to optimize health, quality of life, and clinical outcomes across the cancer continuum.”
In one recent successful study performed by Cohen and his colleagues, 96 Chinese women in Shanghai with breast cancer were evaluated as they received a course of radiation as well as followed up with over time to determine the true long-term effects of the treatment. The women were randomized and some used Qigong, an ancient Chinese mind-body practice which involves meditation, while the others did not. In the women who practiced Qigong, depression was lessened over time, particularly in those women whose depression was the highest in the beginning. The women who did not practice Qigong saw no difference in their level of depression over time. The results show that this type of integrative medicine can reduce the stress on cancer patients, and this can potentially promote healing. As Cohen says,
“It is important for cancer patients to manage stress because it can have a profoundly negative effect on biological systems and inflammatory profiles.”
Qigong (meaning in English “energy cultivation” or “working with the life energy”) is a ritual that involves physical exercises and meditative breathing related to tai chi. Its ancient practice is based in the belief that the body is made up of energy (called “qi”) and that regulating this energy can enhance and promote health within the body.
The success of this recent study by the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center along with other studies will no doubt lead to encouragement of integrative therapy and a whole-body approach to healing for cancer patients.