Treat optimally, i.e. an integrative approach in oncology

Integrative medicine, which is based on a holistic understanding of health and disease, dates back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and Indian doctors used various therapeutic methods, combining them for optimal support of the sick person, putting the person, not the disease, in the center of attention. 

Nowadays, interest in an integrative approach to treatment began to increase in the 1970s and 1980s. With the rapid development of science and medicine, a trend has also emerged to promote natural treatment methods and practices offered by old medical systems such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. The first centers of integrative medicine combining both these areas were established.

More and more people have started looking for treatments that can be effective, less invasive and more holistic than traditional methods. This demand has contributed to the increased popularity of integrative treatment and the development of various complementary therapies.

Currently, more and more medical centers and hospitals, in addition to traditional treatment methods, also offer complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, acupressure, meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques and dietary therapy. Numerous scientific studies confirm the effectiveness of these therapies and their positive impact on the health and well-being of patients.

So what is integrative cancer treatment in practice?

The definition says that integrative oncology is a patient-centered, evidence-based area of cancer care that uses mind-body techniques, natural products, and lifestyle modifications from a variety of traditions, alongside conventional treatments. The goal of integrative oncology is to optimize health, quality of life and clinical outcomes across the entire patient care continuum, increase awareness of prevention, and enable patients to actively participate in the recovery process.

This concept puts the patient and the fullest possible satisfaction of his needs in the area of physical and mental health, as well as emotions, spirituality and social relationships at the center of attention. Its basis is a holistic approach; treating the whole person, not just the disease. The patient is a conscious and involved participant in the treatment and recovery process, with knowledge and decision-making regarding possible therapeutic options. The treatment plan supporting conventional procedures is tailored to the individual needs and problems of each patient

Complementary therapies offer the possibility of improving the quality of life, alleviating symptoms related to the disease itself, as well as the side effects of conventional anticancer treatment, such as fatigue, insomnia, hot flashes, swelling, nausea and pain. They can also be used after treatment, as a form of support for faster recovery. During the entire treatment process, patients have at their disposal relaxation techniques and tools for working with emotions, helping to cope with stress, anxiety or depression related to cancer, but also to improve the quality of sleep and general well-being. All these practices may also constitute an important element of cancer prevention.

What therapies are used in integrative cancer treatment?

These are primarily:

  • Dietetics and nutritional supplementation
  • Physical activity
  • Traditional Chinese medicine practices: acupuncture, acupressure, massages, herbal medicine
  • Ayurvedic practices
  • Yoga, tai chi and qigong
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Manual therapies: chiropractic, osteopathy
  • Phytotherapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy


In Europe and the United States, approximately 40-50% cancer patients choose complementary therapies as part of their treatment. Research shows that an integrative approach improves treatment outcomes, quality of life, and helps alleviate disease burden and side effects of conventional treatments. The response to this demand is the creation of integrative oncology departments by many medical centers, where properly trained doctors and therapists accompany patients in their recovery (e.g. Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Charité Universitätsmedizin). There are also active organizations, such as the American Society of Integrative Oncology or the European Society of Integrative Medicine, which develop principles and standards of integrative treatment, conduct and publish research on such treatment methods, and, above all, spread awareness and knowledge among patients and staff. medical.

The issue of integrative treatment is also addressed by the European Parliament in its activities to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment. In the resolution of February 16, 2022 (Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – towards a comprehensive and coordinated strategy 2020/2267(INI)) highlights the fact that scientifically recognized integrative medicine, endorsed by public health authorities, can benefit patients in the treatment of diseases such as cancer. It also emphasizes the importance of developing a holistic, integrative and patient-centered approach and encouraging, where appropriate, the supportive use of these therapies under the supervision of medical professionals.

It therefore seems that an integrative approach to cancer treatment should become a standard in medical care. In order for it to fulfill its role by offering patients an optimal and safe treatment model, education of medical staff in this area, a multidisciplinary approach and development of ways of effective communication with the patient are needed. 

More information:

European parliament: Soler_final.pdf

Integrative Medicine under the spotlight in the European Parliament

Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer

European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2022 on strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – towards a comprehensive and coordinated strategy (2020/2267(INI))

Integrative oncology in practice:

Charité–Universitätsmedizin, Berlin

Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center

Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center

Memorial Sloan Kettering

UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center


A Comprehensive Definition for Integrative Oncology

Integrative Oncology: An Overview

Growth of Integrative Medicine at Leading Cancer Centers Between 2009 and 2016: A Systematic Analysis of NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center Websites

Integrative Approaches to the Treatment of Cancer