Integrative Cancer Care

Integrative cancer care combines the best and most appropriate treatments for you from different medical approaches to enhance your quality of life and/or clinical outcomes.

An integrative approach to cancer…

  • Combines conventional, self, and complementary care into an integrated whole. 
  • Improves treatment outcomes, makes your body less supportive of cancer, manages side effects, reduces the risk of recurrence, and, whenever possible, prevents or decreases the risk of adverse long-term and late effects of cancer and its treatment.
  • Puts you, the person with cancer, at the center as an active participant in your cancer care.
  • Is grounded in evidence or best practices in patient care.
  • Is anchored in health and healing, focusing where possible on enhancing your innate capacity to heal physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Conventional care is the care you’ll receive from conventionally trained physicians (also called allopathic or Western medicine physicians) and most hospitals. Conventional approaches include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other treatments.

Self care, also called lifestyle medicine, includes your practices and behaviors regarding diet, exercise, relaxation, and more.

Complementary care adds to or “complements” conventional care and includes supplements and other natural products, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, energy therapies, special diets, and more.

Integrative cancer care promotes healing

An integrative cancer care approach can reduce your side effects, increase your resilience, and/or prevent or delay recurrence, and potentially extend your life. Conventional, complementary, and self care may affect your cancer experience or impact cancer directly in several ways.

Improves treatment outcomes

Improving treatment outcomes involves promoting survival, reducing metastases, slowing or reversing tumor growth, or reducing tumor markers. Conventional treatments offer the best option for cure or remission for many types of cancer. Wise use of complementary and self care may enhance the effectiveness of conventional treatments. They may also provide support when conventional treatments are not a good choice—such as when potential harms outweigh the expected benefits—or are not available.

Optimizes body terrain

All three approaches—conventional care, self care, and complementary care—can contribute to creating an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread. Integrative, naturopathic, and functional medicine physicians and professionals tend to emphasize and help you balance your body terrain. Conventional medicine places less emphasis here. You can be an active player in this area, as self care is central to optimizing your body terrain.

Promotes wellness

Side effects commonly experienced with conventional treatment can often be reduced or even avoided with complementary and self-care approaches. Complementary therapies are also less likely than conventional therapies to cause side effects when used for treating anxiety, vomiting, sleep disruption, and other common situations. Complementary and self-care approaches can enhance your overall quality of life and general well-being.

Reduces cancer risk

Conventional, complementary and self care can work together to reduce your risk of cancer, recurrence, or a secondary cancer. Complementary and integrative cancer care tend to place more ongoing emphasis and effort here than conventional care.

Supports whole-person healing

Complementary and self care can support your mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of healing, typically more so than conventional care. 

Offers grounded hope

If conventional options are limited for your type or stage of cancer, complementary and self care can offer additional avenues for healing and potentially extend and expand your life.

Commentary

CancerChoices Senior Clinical Consultant Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, wrote a blog post explaining the difference between integrative cancer care and alternative care.

“Many use the terms ‘complementary’ and ‘alternative’ interchangeably, but they indicate different uses of therapies. When a therapy or self-care practice is used in an intentional way along with conventional treatment, it is considered complementary. A therapy or practice used instead of conventional treatment is considered alternative. So it’s not the therapy or practice itself, but how it’s used that makes the difference.” 

Read the blog post: Integrative Oncology Is Not Alternative Medicine ›

CancerChoices advisor Keith Block, MD, discusses how the avoidance of conventional therapies in cancer care reduces survival. He also explains the key characteristics of integrative cancer care, distinguishing it from alternative medicine and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).

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Words of guidance

Read words of inspiration and guidance from Michael Lerner, CancerChoices co-founder and author of Choices in Healing.

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Helpful links

Videos

Whole Person Cancer Care

Integrative physician and CancerChoices advisor Wayne Jonas, MD, speaks about whole-person cancer care.

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Get Well and Stay Well with Dr. Wayne Jonas & Laura Pole, RN, MSN, Chef

CancerChoices Senior Clinical Consultant Laura Pole talks with Dr. Wayne Jonas about integrative approaches in cancer care.

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Lindsay McDonell

Your Dance with Cancer: A Conversation with a Metastatic Breast Cancer Thriver

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Suz Mondello

Creating My Integrative Approach to Cancer Care

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Authors

Miki Scheidel

Co-Founder and Creative Director
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Miki Scheidel is Co-founder and creative director of CancerChoices. She led the effort to transform Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, the prior version of CancerChoices, to its current form. Miki and her family were deeply affected by her father’s transformative experience with integrative approaches to metastatic kidney cancer. That experience inspires her work as president of the Scheidel Foundation and as volunteer staff at CancerChoices. She previously worked with the US Agency for International Development and Family Health International among other roles. She received her graduate degree in international development from Georgetown University, a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from George Mason University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Gettysburg College.

Miki Scheidel Co-Founder and Creative Director

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Reviewers

Michael Lerner is co-founder of Commonweal and co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, The New School at Commonweal, and CancerChoices. He has led more than 200 Commonweal Cancer Help Program retreats to date. His book Choices In Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer was the first book on integrative cancer care to be well received by prominent medical journals as well as by the patient and integrative cancer care community.

Michael Lerner Co-Founder

Julia H. Rowland, PhD

Clinician, researcher, teacher, and CancerChoices advisor
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Julia H. Rowland, PhD, is a long-time clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of psychosocial aspects of cancer. She has worked with and conducted competitively funded research among both pediatric and adult cancer survivors, and published broadly in psycho-oncology, including co-editing with the late Dr. Jimmie Holland the groundbreaking text Handbook of Psychooncology.

Dr. Rowland received her doctorate in developmental psychology from Columbia University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in psychosocial oncology. While at MSKCC, where she held joint appointments in pediatrics and neurology, Dr. Rowland helped to develop and was the first director of the Post-Treatment Resource Program, an innovative resource designed to provide a full range of non-medical services to patients and their families after the end of treatment.

In 1990 Dr. Rowland moved to Washington, DC, to become founding director of the Psycho-Oncology Program at Georgetown University and the Lombardi Cancer Center. Nine years later, in September of 1999, she was recruited to the National Cancer Institute to become the first full-time director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship (OCS). As OCS director Dr. Rowland helped build the visibility of the office and created numerous governmental and nonprofit partnerships to advance public awareness about and funding for research addressing the healthcare and quality of life needs of the growing population of cancer survivors of all ages, and their families. After 18 years in this role, Dr. Rowland retired from federal service in September 2017 and assumed her current position as Senior Strategic Advisor at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, a small nonprofit organization that has been providing integrative support services to cancer patients and their families in the heart of Washington, DC, for over twenty years.

Julia H. Rowland, PhD Clinician, researcher, teacher, and CancerChoices advisor

Last update: February 13, 2024

CancerChoices provides information about integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care, and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocialtherapy, and acupuncture therapies and self carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.