For centuries, civilizations relied on the healing properties of plants, exercise, acupuncture and massage, but without knowing why they worked. When proven medicine replaced many of these natural methods, it created a division between traditional and nontraditional approaches. But within the past two decades, a movement emerged to integrate these natural healing methods with traditional cancer therapies.

Integrative therapy functions as a complement to traditional therapy and promotes things like music therapy, yoga, journaling and meditation to alleviate side effects and improve quality of life. Integrative programs at cancer centers, clinics and retreats across the country are educating patients and physicians on how integrative therapy can heal both the mind and body during and after cancer.

It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of patients use at least one nontraditional therapy during or after their traditional treatment. However, studies have shown that although almost all patients discuss their treatment regimen with their integrative therapy provider, barely half discuss their nontraditional treatments with their oncologist.

Acupuncture, one of the most researched integrative therapies, has proven useful in reducing side effects in some patients, which encouraged the National Institutes of Health to acknowledge the benefits of acupuncture for pain and nausea. Studies also show that foot reflexology lessens anxiety, and journaling reduces depression. Current clinical trials with mistletoe extract plus chemotherapy, tai chi (a form of martial arts) and healing touch (a type of massage) are investigating possible beneficial effects on the immune system, stress and side effects, respectively.

With integrative therapies, a balance of mainstream and complementary therapies explore the emotional and spiritual toll cancer takes on the mental, emotional and physical body. Although the main emphasis of medical therapy is on a cure, patients and doctors are learning that healing can be just as crucial.

For more on integrative therapies, visit nccam.nih.gov.

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