The early “integrative medicine” period clearly was one of “non-integrated integration.” The hospital or insurer wanted to throw the consumer an integrative bone in the competitive marketplace. They produced stand-alone integrative clinics or a carve-out insurance products. Offerings, in these forms, serve dual purposes. The medical delivery organization or insurer pleases patients by offering a little yoga, or acupuncture, or manipulative therapy or massage. At the same time, the non-integrated nature of what is offered pleases medical leadership: they are not asked to take the integrative methods seriously. They needn’t cross the medical-cultural divide to weigh whether the integrative approaches may be better than usual care. For most of the past decade, the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) has been building bridges across the chasm. Twice they’ve developed integrative oncology guidelines with mainstream oncology organizations. Now, through an unrestricted grant from the Samueli Foundation, SIO and the influential American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) are commencing a project to raise three additional girders to bridge treatments.
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.
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.
Not long ago researchers at Yale cast a pall over the use of complementary medicine in the care of cancer patients – a.k.a. “integrative oncology.” The negativity was based on a fundamental misclassification. Nevertheless, the wrong-headed results prompted a flurry of news accounts that suggested the users of complementary medicine “die earlier than those who didn’t.” A more expansive and deeper look at the potential values of integrative oncology can be gained via a recent Special Focus Issue on Integrative Oncology with its 6 invited reviews, 13 original research articles, 7 commentaries, and 2 editorials. The submissions came from 4 continents.