Having your cancer treated by someone waving their hands over your torso is an approach most persons would reject. But mix it with other techniques and impressive-sounding terms presented under the umbrella of Integrated Oncology, and the patient may be swayed.
In a worst-case scenario, Magical Thinking, chemotherapy sickness, and assurances from a naturopath they’ve come to trust may combine to convince the patient that Reiki is all that’s needed reverse rouge cell growth.
Oncology deals with tumors, so genuine integrative oncology might involve a physician, pathologist, surgeon, chemotherapist, and radiologist working in conjunction to diagnose and treat a cancer patient. It might also include palliative care that focuses on the unpleasant symptoms of pain, nausea, and anxiety.
This is where the lines can start to become blurred. Since many cancer patients suffer vitamin and mineral deficiencies, nutrition is important, but a nutritionist is not treating cancer and the service provided is not nutritional therapy. Likewise, there is no relaxation therapy, music therapy or humor therapy. It is a problem when the likes of yoga, visualization, and meditation are presented as tools that fight cancer.
Integrative oncology involves many unproven and highly implausible treatments. Taken by themselves, the techniques may be harmless. But it is potentially fatal if they are relied on in lieu of medicine, and this could happen. Since patients don’t see the cells growing or regressing, they are more likely to be fooled into believing naturopathy or homeopathy is working. But using these to treat cancer is as ineffective as seeing a naturopath for a severed artery or popping homeopathic tablets for a concussion.
In integrative oncology, highly-effective, repeatedly successful treatments are on the same plain as sound nutrition, which is palliative care but is not fighting cancer, and also in the same category as reflexology, craniosacral therapy, and Therapeutic Touch.
Some integrative oncology techniques used in respected cancer-fighting institutions violate the laws of physics and chemistry, and are rooted in pre-scientific vitalism. Some invoke non-existent anatomical features such as acupuncture meridians, chiropractic subluxations, and reflexology points that correspond to organs. Traditional Chinese Medicine blames illness on wind, heat, dryness, temperature extremes, and dampness. Your mother may have thought this too when she told you to come in from the rain or you’d catch cold. Updated for today’s integrative oncologist, the admonition is, “Come inside before you catch mesothelioma.”
Another concern is that time, money, and resources are spent on researching treatments and techniques that have no prior plausibility, and aren’t based on science. These ideas bypass preclinical observation, in vitro testing, and animal research, and jump straight to randomized controlled tests. $50,000,000 in tax money went to integrate ancient Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and Ayurvedic medicine into cancer-fighting regimens. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers acupuncture, chiropractic, mind-body therapy, and naturopathy. At the Cleveland Clinic, a staff member analyzes patient tongues to determine what herbs would help fight cancer.
Then there was a test of a pancreatic cancer remedy that included massive amounts of vegetable juice, 81 daily tablets, skin brushing, salt and soda baths, and two daily coffee enemas. One-year survival rates for the unfortunate human guinea pigs was four times worse than those receiving standard care.
Most integrated oncology ideas are under the naturopathy umbrella, and this field is as diverse as the number of practitioners. The only common ground is the conviction that the body can heal itself if properly prompted. This is an idea that has no place in any cancer treatment.