Integrative Oncology Overview

Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center offers integrative oncology to address symptoms caused by disease and treatment, such as fatigue, pain, nausea, anxiety and others. The practice combines conventional Western medicine with evidence-based complementary treatments. That means the treatments have been researched and proved to be safe and effective in healing.

Complementary treatments may include mind-body practices, lifestyle changes, dietary changes, natural products and more.

Integrative oncology at Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center

Integrative oncology puts you at the center of the treatment plan. It makes you an active participant in your own care, from prevention through diagnosis, throughout treatment and into survivorship.

The process begins with collaboration. With your care team, you review your symptoms, your disease treatment, possible side effects, as well as your values and health goals. Then, your team helps develop an integrative care plan personalized to your needs and wishes.

Integrative oncology care plans may include evidence-based techniques such as:

Acupuncture and acupressure. For some people who receive chemotherapy or surgical anesthesia, nausea and vomiting can be hard to control with conventional medicine. Evidence shows that acupoint therapy can prevent and treat these symptoms as well as control pain. During acupuncture treatment, a practitioner inserts tiny needles into the skin at precise points (acupoints). Acupressure is a related technique that applies mild pressure to certain areas, such as the wrist, to help relieve nausea.

Aromatherapy. In aromatherapy, the use of fragrant oils provide a calming sensation. Oils, infused with scents such as lavender, can be applied to the skin during a massage. Or the oils can be added to bath water. Fragrant oils also can be heated to release their scents into the air. Aromatherapy may help relieve nausea, pain and stress.

Connection to social and emotional support. While going through cancer treatment, it is important to stay connected to family, friends and organizations that provide support for emotional well-being. Your emotional health is important because it can impact physical health and overall quality of life. A cancer diagnosis can be emotionally challenging, but there are many different resources available to support you and your family throughout your cancer treatment.

Dietary supplement counseling. There are many supplements recommended by many sources to people with cancer. However, not all supplements work as advertised, and some may even be harmful or make treatments less effective. Integrated oncology specialists can help you understand the evidence supporting specific supplements and their safety.

Exercise and movement. Many people with cancer have fatigue pain and other symptoms that make physical activities difficult. Your integrated oncology specialist will work with you to develop an exercise regimen that's tailored to your needs and abilities. For instance, it may include gentle exercises that improve your range of motion, preserve function and reduce stress. Studies demonstrate that exercise programs for people with cancer can reduce fatigue, improve physical health and improve overall quality of life.

Massage. Evidence shows that massage can significantly reduce psychological distress, nausea, pain and fatigue. The goal of massage is to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation.

Mind-body practices. The goal of mind-body practices is to reduce how stress affects your body by focusing your attention on calming your mind and relaxing your muscles. Practices can include meditation, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Studies shows that for some people, these techniques may improve mood and reduce stress, anxiety, depression and pain. They also may help people with cancer sleep better.

Music therapy. As little as 30 minutes of music therapy may be enough to reduce pain and anxiety. Music therapy may include listening to music, singing, playing instruments or writing lyrics.

Nutrition counseling. Evidence shows that proper nutrition during and after cancer treatment contributes to enhanced recovery, longer life and reduced recurrence of disease. Specialists in integrative oncology discuss your nutrition goals with you and help you set manageable targets. They'll also provide tips and guidance to help you meet your goals.

Reiki. The practice of reiki aims to balance a person's energy flow. The therapy is passive for the person receiving it and has no known side effects. Studies have shown it may reduce pain in people with cancer and may ease anxiety and depression.

Sleep hygiene. Difficulty sleeping is very common in people who have cancer, both during and after treatment. It can be caused by a number of factors, such as side effects from treatment and psychological stress of coping with the disease. Your integrative oncology specialist will help you choose effective techniques to manage insomnia.

Stress and anxiety management. The stress patients with cancer experience can be very complex and is often caused by multiple factors. Stress and feelings of anxiety can impact both physical and emotional well-being. Your integrative oncology team can discuss different stress reduction techniques that you can incorporate into your everyday life. These techniques are shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and promote emotional health.

Help for every stage of cancer

The stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis can turn life upside down, which can make maintaining, much less developing, healthy habits difficult.

Through integrative oncology, specialists can help you adopt a healthy lifestyle, lose weight and sleep better. They can help you learn the different integrative medicine practices available to you and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The goal of integrated oncology is to help you cope with the stress of a cancer diagnosis, manage the side effects of treatment and address lingering symptoms after treatment.