What else is there? Beyond just the core four
For those who know, I just got back from an 1,800 mile, 10 day road trip that included camping and hiking in Glacier National Park and attendance at the SIO conference. I will share a post on the adventurous parts of my trip soon. This post focuses on the conference.
Western oncology tends to treat cancer one of four ways (what I refer to as the "core four"):
But, WHAT ELSE IS THERE? That's a question most oncologists don't really deal with but all patients and caregivers want to know. So, I set out to learn what else there is and have been getting more involved in the Society for Integrative Oncology. (I currently sit on a number of committees and make my opinions known on most topics - I am not very shy!) Helping people understand what else can help them has become a passion for me.
What is integrative oncology you might ask? The society (SIO) describes the mission as:
Mission: The mission of the Society for Integrative Oncology is to advance evidence- based, comprehensive integrative healthcare to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.
So I went to the conference in Banff (not a bad place for a conference). It was truly amazing. The people were great, nice and so open minded, and the conference addressed all traditions and respected ways of thinking that you don't often hear about. Everything and every tradition is on the table, from traditional Chinese medicine, herbs, indigenous people's traditions, fecal transplants, microbiome, untraditional treatments, etc. The goal is to help people and come up with ways to support patients. AND, everything they discussed has been thoroughly researched. AND they started with a question, not trying to validate a pill or medication AND there is not a ton of money to be made in the answers they present. There are a ton of IO clinical trials that don't involve pills or pharma companies.
There is also a fantastic partnership with ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncologists) to co-develop guidelines around things like anxiety and depression, pain, treatments for breast cancer and more coming.
Some examples of the research:
The impact of Hypno-sedation on women with breast cancer who need localized surgeries and how it impacts their need for opioids
The impact of high dosage IV Vitamin C (it improves quality of life but has no bearing on tumor growth or size)
The effects of psychedelic assisted therapies on people with cancer
Other ways (non-medication) to treat anxiety and depression in people with cancer
Diet and cancer
I even saw some research on the effects of playing golf on men with prostate cancer.
At the end of the day, what I loved, was how all of it started with a question. How do we improve quality of life? How do we limit drug usage? What is the effect of complementary interventions that don't involve medication? Does acupuncture help alleviate chemo pain (it does)? etc. This wasn't about validating that a pill works and can make tons of money, this was about answering questions that could really help people.
The conference wasn't perfect, but it was great. It could use a movement towards more patient friendly language and an understanding of the impacts of the research on real people. That being said, it's a conference that is currently targeting clinicians, researchers and practitioners so the orientation made sense.
Overall, I loved it. I met some amazing people, learned a ton about what else is out there, and was so hopeful to see that people are trying to answer questions using any type of intervention as opposed to always defaulting to a medication. Money was not the driver at this event nor is it in integrative oncology, answers and support for patients is.
I highly encourage people to check out SIO, to join, or if you work for an org or a company to think about sponsoring the organization (or a research effort). The work they (we) are doing is incredible and exactly the kind of work you hope is getting done!