In July 2018, the Integrator published a series of articles challenging a JAMA Oncology study and stunning headlines that those using complementary therapies in cancer treatment die quicker. The integrative oncology community condemned the paper – though oddly falling short of calling for retraction. (In the Integrator series, I urged retraction.) After 7 months and 193,000 downloads of this story, the JAMA Oncology finally published letters from researchers in 4 nations that led an Medscape article on the reaction to quote a scientist claiming the five letters “completely destroy(ed) the pseudoscience article.” Why is it not retracted? One wonders when the integrative oncology community will demand respect.
A significant trend is appearing in major research organizations on integrative health and medicine. The timing is right: in the United States, major reports, meetings and guidelines now include non-pharmacologic, a.k.a. integrative approaches. But how do we move these into practice? Top acupuncture, integrative oncology and general integrative health conferences are featuring what is called “implementation science.” This study of methods to promote the integration of research findings seeks to propel changes in healthcare policy and practice. The integrative trend arises amidst a renewed push for health services research of all kinds. Action on these lines can straighten out some twisted karma relative to the 1998 US Congressional legislative mandate that established the globe’s most significant scientific investment in alternative, complementary and integrative medicine.
The raw data are stark. 40% of US adults in a recent poll believe that “cancer can be solely cured through alternative remedies.” Of young people aged 18-35, the percentage pushes up to nearly half, at 47%. Remarkably, 38% of family members and other caregivers to people with cancer agree. And 22% of cancer survivors do. These beliefs – a shocking contrast to a 2017 study that found that choosing alternatives increases risk of death 2.5 times – are a central reason that the cancer establishment needs integrative and naturopathic oncologists.
I have covered developments of the Society for Integrative Oncology over the 19 years since the organization placed its flag squarely in the emerging, evidence-based integrative medicine era. Many of its accomplishments have been remarkable for the broader integrative medicine field. SIO has had success in creating guidelines that have been endorsed by conventional oncology organizations. Internally, the organization has, since its beginning, fostered an interprofessional environment that has, for instance, included naturopathic physicians in the presidency and leading its marquis integrative breast cancer guideline initiative. I’d never attended their conference until this year when I was one of 380 souls at the October 27-29, 2019 conference in Phoenix. Here are some impressions. Credit the 19th century composer Mussorgsky for the title.