Surgery: An Integrative Approach - CancerChoices

Integrative approaches to surgery at a glance

An integrative approach to surgery begins with a full appraisal of whether surgery is likely to do more good than harm. If you decide on surgery, an integrative approach involves actively preparing for surgery, making wise choices about pain control during and after surgery, and promoting a balanced body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more all throughout your surgery experience. Integrative approaches starting before surgery can improve your resilience, your response to surgery, and your recovery.

Addressing body terrain imbalances such as blood sugar and insulin resistance, excess body weight, and poor muscle density can improve your survival and reduce complications from surgery. Prehabilitation (prehab)improving the functional capability of a patient prior to a surgical procedure or other medical treatment can be part of your preparation for surgery to address imbalances.

7 Healing Practices

Top prehab practices are Eating Well and Moving More, but other practices are also part of a prehab approach called enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS).

Because many prescription drugs, supplements, and natural products can interact with anesthesia or promote bleeding, these may need to be stopped well before surgery. Be sure your healthcare team knows about all the medications and products you’re using.

Anxiety and stress are common before surgery. Managing and reducing your anxiety and stress responses can improve your experience and outcomes.

Your choices of nutrition, anesthesia, and pain control during and after surgery can promote more rapid healing and better long-term outcomes. In light of both benefits and risks of opioid use, we recommend that opioids be used when necessary but in the smallest amount and for the shortest period possible. We encourage you to consider non-opioid options such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) when available, topical approaches such as lidocaine patches, or even non-drug options such as ice or heat as recommended.

Top practices and complementary therapies for recovering from surgery

These practices and 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 psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies have the best (modest or higher) evidence of an effect.

Pain control

Regaining mobility and self care

Helpful links

The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition ›

Integrative approaches to preparing for, mitigating side effects from, and enhancing outcomes of cancer surgery. See chapters 6 and 7.

The Breast Cancer Companion ›

Information related to surgery for breast cancer.

Keep reading about integrative approaches to surgery


Laura Pole, MSN, RN, 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, MSN, RN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher
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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 and writer for CancerChoices and also served as the first program manager. 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


Diljeet Singh, MD, DrPH

Gynecologic Oncologist
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Dr. Singh practices gynecologic oncology with Virginia Oncology Associates Integrative Gynecology Oncology. She was named a “Top Doctor” by Northern Virginia Magazine in 2016.

Diljeet Singh, MD, DrPH Gynecologic Oncologist

Whitney You, MD, MPH

Maternal-Fetal Medicine Physician
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Dr. You is a physician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) with a specific interest in cancer in the context of pregnancy. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in health services research with a focus in health literacy and received a Master of Public Health.

Whitney You, MD, MPH Maternal-Fetal Medicine Physician

Last update: May 13, 2024

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in 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 psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle 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.

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