By Mary Jo Lechowicz, MD
Yesterday’s integrative medicine Education Program Session highlighted the latest research on combining complementary therapies with conventional medical approaches, in order to improve quality of life and better manage patients’ symptoms.
Dr. David Rosenthal, medical director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and moderator of the session, reflected on the driving force behind his work: a patient who said, “I may be receiving the best therapy in the world, but you are not treating me as a whole human being.” Dr. Rosenthal stated, “Integrative therapy uses validated measures to allow the patients to fulfill 100 percent of their treatment potential.” The Education Session highlighted the current data on integrative approaches as they pertain to children, survivorship, and supplements.
One of the most common questions that patients ask their doctors is, “In addition to what you recommend, is there something I can take or something I can do on my own to help fight the cancer?” Dr. Daniel Man-Yuen Sze from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University addressed the topic of non-prescription supplements and their potential therapeutic properties. Compounds such as the extract of the Coriolus versicolor mushroom are used widely in Asia for their immunomodulatory effects. Commercially, this extract is better known as Polysaccharide Krestin (PSK) in Japan and Polysaccharide Protein (PSP) in China. Preliminary clinical studies report improvement in cellular immunity in cancer patients taking PSK/PSP. These components can induce an immune response through a number of mechanisms. Ongoing well-designed clinical trials using such “supplements” and others, namely PHY906, are underway. These trials will help us gain standardized data into some traditional Chinese medical remedies commonly used.
Dr. Kara Kelly of Columbia University Medical Center then described her work on the use of integrative therapies as supportive care for children with hematologic malignancies. Dr. Kelly emphasized the need for integrative therapies in children to be tailored to the developmental stage of the child. Integrative therapies, such as massage for fatigue and hypnosis or music therapy for procedural pain, may effectively improve symptom control in children with hematologic malignancies. Her message reminded us that the use of integrative therapy extends beyond acute treatment and includes management of treatment-related, long-term effects in cancer survivors, as well as end-of-life care.
Dr. Volker Diehl from the University of Cologne continued the discussion of integrative medicine by describing findings in long-term survivors in the Hodgkin Study Group. Through quality-of-life studies in almost 12,000 young patients treated for Hodgkin lymphoma in Europe, they found that there is an unmet need for physicians to address not only the biologic mechanisms for fighting cancer, but also the existential questions which arise from the experience. These findings evolved into the conception, fundraising, and building of “Haus LebensWert” (the house for a life worth living). This institution offers a variety of approaches to improve upon patients’ ability to feel better during treatment and live fuller lives after remission is achieved.
Those interested in learning more about integrative medicine might consider consulting www.integrativeonc.org, the Web site of the Society for Integrative Oncology, for further information.
Dr. Lechowicz indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.
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