The Society for Integrative Oncology has released new guidelines regarding effective and safe integrative treatments for people with breast cancer.
The new review adds to the growing body of evidence that supports the use of integrative therapies for breast cancer patients. The latest results appear in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
The authors of the study make a few distinctions at the beginning of the report. They define complementary and alternative therapies as “any medical system, practice, or product that is not part of conventional medical care.” In the oncology setting, patients use these therapies to improve quality of life, relieve symptoms of the disease, minimize side effects of treatment and more.
“Studies show that up to 80 percent of people with a history of cancer use one or more complementary and integrative therapies, but until recently, evidence supporting the use of many of these therapies had been limited,” said Heather Greenlee, N.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and past president of SIO.
The researchers (from a variety of institutions) studied more than 80 different therapies and assigned each therapy a letter grade. For example, a letter grade of “A” means the research supports the use of certain therapy for a specific clinical indication.
Some highlights of the new SIO recommendations include:
-Music therapy, meditation, stress management and yoga for anxiety and stress reduction
-Meditation, relaxation, yoga, massage and music therapy for depression and mood disorders
-Meditation and yoga to improve quality of life
-Acupressure and acupuncture for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
Meditation has the strongest evidence supporting its use. The researchers recommended it for alleviating depression symptoms, reducing anxiety and improving quality of life. Music therapy, massage and yoga received “B” grades for the same symptoms.
“The routine use of yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and passive music therapy to address common mental health concerns among patients with breast cancer is supported by high levels of evidence,” said Debu Tripathy, M.D., chair of Breast Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and a past president of SIO.
Researchers noted that clinicians and patients should exercise caution regarding the use of therapies that received “C” or “D” grades. Lynda Balneaves, R.N., Ph.D. and president-elect of SIO, warns that patients should “fully understand the potential risks of not using a conventional therapy that may effectively treat cancer or help manage side effects associated with cancer treatment.”
Further Research Needed
The new findings are by no means definitive. The authors of the study note that their results should ignite more research regarding integrative therapies.
“Patients are using many forms of integrative therapies with little or no supporting evidence and that remain understudied,” noted Dr. Greenlee. “This paper serves as a call for further research to support patients and healthcare providers in making more informed decisions that achieve meaningful clinical results and avoid harm.”