Watch Dr. Anna Bausum, Winship Cancer Institute at Emroy University, discuss alternative medicine, during the CURE Educated Patient Metastatic Breast Cancer Summit.
Integrative medicine can be a great tool in a prevention, consolidative and alternative approach for patients with metastatic breast cancer, as it may help ease side effects improving quality of life, according to an expert.
Dr. Anna Bausum, a naturopathic doctor in the role of integrative oncology specialist at Winship Cancer Institute at Emroy University in Atlanta, discussed the utilization of integrative medicine further at the CURE® Educated Patient® Metastatic Breast Cancer Summit.
She described integrative medicine as an “all together” approach, rather than an “either or” approach. Brining integrative medicine to patients with metastatic breast cancer during their treatment with chemotherapy, radiation or surgery may, hopefully, help ease side effects and improve quality of life so patients can continue on treatment for their cancer. Some types of integrative medicine include supplements, yoga, mindfulness, acupuncture, massage therapy, diet and lifestyle changes, exercise and more.
“I think it’s important for a patient to be educated so that they can be an advocate for themselves,” she said in an interview with CURE®. “There are so many things that happen in this space along the journey from initial diagnosis through treatment. And that can be very disempowering or violate bodily autonomy and cause stress and anxiety, and people suffer under that.”
“If there’s a way to re-empower someone and help them advocate for themselves, even just in their daily life … at home away from treatment to take care of themselves and put their best foot forward in a very coordinated and safe way. I’d say that empowerment piece is the first and most important (part) of why this should be part of everyone’s care plan.”
How to Incorporate Integrative Medicine
She said that integrative medicine can be applied in three different ways: preventative, integrative or alternative. In a preventative aspect, “can we streamline things,” she explained. So, this may include trying to prevent chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy with acupuncture, exercise, diet or supplements.
“This is a field evolving in medicine where we’re learning more and more every year and that will continue to refine,” she said. “But luckily for breast cancer patients, because they occupy such a large piece of the pie, if you will, of all cancer diagnoses, the evidence is there. And it’s kind of easy to start plugging and playing and adopting.”
In the integrative sense, it could include taking a vitamin D or melatonin supplement alongside their chemotherapeutics — which is usually a safe regimen, she added.
“Sometimes it’s ok to take alongside the medicine because we have confidently eliminated any chance of (drug) herb interaction or drug supplement interaction that can inevitably sometimes pose safety issues or negate the effect we want treatment to have,” she explained. However, if there is not enough data to support a specific supplement’s safety combined with a patient’s treatment she will air on the side of caution and not move forward with it.
Bausum continued to explain that the integrative approach can be beneficial in overall survival and treatment response while taken alongside a patient’s typical treatments. This approach can help improve sleep, depression, pain and many other mechanisms — which may help a patient better tolerate their treatment.
“If you’re not sleeping well, managing pain well or feeling well mentally are you going to do well in your cancer treatment? That’s something that really matters too,” Bausum added.
Integrative medicine in the alternative sense can help patients who are not responding to opioids for pain management, for example. She described it as “something that is either a toxicity that is going to prompt treatment delay or just an unacceptable quality of life toxicity due to another supporting medicine.” And the alternative medicine, such as lifestyle changes, diet, supplements and acupuncture, may help boost whatever is lacking in their body or suffering from toxicity so they can continue to receive the treatment they need.
“This offers and opens the door to patients who would have been kind of out of options otherwise,” Bausum said.
Why to Incorporate Integrative Medicine
“Integrative medicine is kind of a term for a large umbrella of things people can be doing,” she said. “And I tell people at the end of the day it can be a supplement, lifestyle technique or other types of integrative therapies, I aspire for them with this to become an active participant in their care.”
She noted that these integrative approaches may not only help the patient, but also their family members or friends who are at risk for breast cancer, primarily the preventative approaches.
“They can all benefit from a primary prevention upfront, while the patient who’s actively undergoing treatment is going to benefit from symptom management and help improve quality of life,” Bausum explained. “So, it’s something they can do together and build a community around because meaningful social connections are such a big part of this process as well.”
Before getting started on an integrative medicine, Bausum noted, it is important for patients to consult with their primary care team as well as a licensed naturopathic doctor with a special focus in their practice for oncology. And patients should know it is an empowering step to take when they ask, “what else can I do?”
“I make sure every patient feels proud of the fact that they’re asking what else they can do and become that active participant in their care and taking that accountability and saying there are things I can do daily that make a difference,” she concluded.
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