Cancer Patients Increasingly Supplementing Treatment with Integrative Therapies

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Integrative health options are increasingly becoming part of the daily health practices of many Canadians. Amongst Canadian cancer patients, between 34% – 80% of individuals are using complementary therapies but many are still making these choices without the input of their oncological medical practitioners. Canadian practices are in line with global trends toward including complementary therapies, with nearly 40% of cancer patients worldwide accessing them as part of their treatment, women more than men. The most popular among them include natural health products, mind-body therapies such as yoga and meditation, and physical therapies such as massage and acupuncture.

But how accessible and approachable is Integrative Medicine for Canadian cancer patients? Lynda G. Balneaves, RN, PhD, Associate Professor and CIHR New Investigator, UBC School of Nursing, writes that while there has been a significant paradigm shift in the practice and inclusion of Integrative Medicine as complementary to mainstream medical protocol, it is far from being available and offered to most Canadians battling cancer.

Provincial health insurance programs do not provide funding for these therapies, which cumulatively can cost in the thousands, making it accessible only to those who can afford it or who have supplementary insurance plans. The result is that patients and families struggle emotionally and financially with making these choices. Medical practitioners remain hesitant at best, and oppositional in most cases, to consider or include complementary therapies as part of their patients’ treatment. There is a considerable lack of accessible information available to the average person on the results of published studies relating to the impact and success of complementary therapies. Due to lack of knowledge of the range and benefits related to incorporating Integrative Medicine, patients are hesitant to be open with their physicians. Combined with deep concerns about contraindications and potential interactions associated with such therapies, physicians and policy makers are still resisting their inclusion.

But cancer patients are making the paradigm shift take place in conventional care in spite of it all. While nearly 40% of patients using complementary therapies have not disclosed their practice to their doctors, centres across Canada are beginning to introduce it into their programs.

Patients can now access complementary therapy based programs, such as yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction, art and music therapy, as part of their complementary care services at such facilities as the Juravinski Cancer Centre and Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., InspireHealth in Vancouver, B.C., and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Que.

With patients moving forward with utilizing CAM therapies, it seems only natural that physicians address the trend as part of conventional medicine. Marja J. Verhoef PhD, in her article for Cancer Knowledge Network  writes:

“Complementary treatments are increasingly being integrated in conventional medicine, and the body of evidence for these treatments, continues to grow. New evidence has facilitated the development of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) and it is expected that such guidelines will facilitate treatment decision-making and have the potential to improve the patient-provider relationship.”

Furthermore there is a small but dedicated group of integrated health teams of cancer care practitioners offering scientifically grounded, evidence-informed natural cancer care, to strengthen the immune system, to support the body’s inherent healing ability, and to help sustain wellness during aggressive cancer treatments. A new centre in Canada – the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre (OICC) is helping pave the way. Headed by Dr. Dugald Seely, OICC patients have the opportunity to receive naturopathic medical care, integrative medical care, nutritional guidance, physiotherapy, massage and lymphedema therapy, acupuncture, yoga therapy, and counseling services. Senior naturopathic doctors (NDs) at OICC have specialized training in oncology and have earned the designation Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncologists (FABNO).

With Integrative Medicine seeing the patient as a whole person – the mind, body, and spirit – it comes as no surprise that the trend towards its acceptance is moving forward. The question remains how can conventional medicine, complementary care and policy makers, find the common ground to treat cancer patients from a holistic and more integrated perspective.


The Cancer Knowledge Network is dedicated to giving cancer survivors, their loved ones, and medical professionals access to online knowledge-based resources that fill the gap between scientific text and day-to-day living. Follow them  at

The Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre is paving the way for Integrative Oncology care in Eastern Canada. Through clinical practice, research and education, the OICC strives to assess and reduce possible causes of cancer while exploring innovative integrative treatments.
Address: 29 Bayswater Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 2E5
Phone: (613) 792-1222
Toll-free: 1 (855) 546-1244
The OICC is a regional centre of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

Juravinski Cancer Centre
699 Concession Street
Hamilton, Ontario L8V 5C2

Jewish General Hospital
3755 Côte-Sainte-Catherine Road
Montréal, Québec H3T 1E2
Tel: 514-340-8222