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Dispatch: Society for Integrative Oncology's 10th Annual Meeting

Researchers gathered for the 10th annual meeting of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

BY Debu Tripathy, MD
PUBLISHED December 09, 2013

The 10th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology, which took place in October in Vancouver, British Columbia, featured research and models of care that demonstrate the field’s growing significance. For example, there was a time when diet and exercise were considered “fringe” but are now recognized as key supportive approaches for people with cancer—improving their quality of life and, perhaps, their survival.

The area that has attracted a lot of attention during the past decade is mind-body techniques, such as yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and meditation. Large randomized trials show these techniques can improve mood and energy, while lessening insomnia. It is unclear that one modality is superior to others—perhaps it is more a matter of matching the right type of stress reduction to the individual, be it a more solitary meditative or group- or emotion-sharing experience. Better tools are needed to personalize these supportive measures, but more important is the need to make people with cancer aware of their impact and availability.

Investigations of controversial areas of integrative oncology, such as the use of nutritional supplements, antioxidants and herbal medicines, are proceeding. Many trials of supplements have had mixed or negative results, while more general dietary strategies, such as bolstering fruit and vegetable consumption (especially coupled with exercise or physical activity), are yielding better outcomes. Botanical agents are showing potential as biologically active drugs, but studies have been hampered by concerns about interactions with standard drugs. The traditional patterns of using customized formulas also make the design of clinical trials more difficult.

Many of the researchers and patient advocates present at the meeting pondered the question of whether an entirely new approach is needed to understand and prove the worthiness of individualized integrative medicine, rather than conventional large-scale randomized clinical trials. Interestingly, the same question is being considered in modern molecular oncology, which is aimed at sub-subsets of cancers that are as unique as people themselves.

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