Cancer is a multifaceted and complex disease. While we often take a tumour-based approach to treatment of cancer, the result is not as effective as we would like to achieve. There is an over dependence on medical treatment alone which has led to poor patient outcomes. The reasons for this can be many. One of them is the lack of holistic approach towards cancer treatment. We are focussed on one aspect of treatment while others are ignored. Unlike in the west, cancer treatment in India focuses on medication alone, ignoring lifestyle changes that could prevent relapse. This stems from lack of awareness of integrative oncology that looks beyond medication and focuses on nutrition, yoga, meditation and physiological interventions that improve patient outcomes and relieve side effects of standard treatments.
Cancer depletes every aspect of one’s life. From biological changes to mental and social stress, dealing with cancer can have a devastating impact on the patient’s physical and psychological well being. Ignoring these areas result in poor patient and treatment outcomes. While quality of life is affected so is the effectiveness of the treatment, hence it’s crucial to adopt a treatment approach that treats the patient and not just the cancer.
This method of holistic assessment applies to all chronic and lifestyle diseases or any medical condition for that matter. An integration of clinical and non-clinical care, which predominantly focuses on the medical condition along with the quality of life of the patient, is imperative. Some of the major cancer institutes like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York and MD Anderson Cancer Centre have have incorporated this approach of integrative medicine into their line of treatment and care for a patient. There is an abundance of medical research and scientific studies proving that using a holistic and integrative approach in dealing with cancer increases the effectiveness of the treatment and improves the recovery of the patient to a large extent. In some cases, it can also decrease or eradicate chances of a relapse.
Today, a number of cancer cases are predominantly lifestyle related. Therefore, it is necessary that the approach to treatment has to begin with changing one’s lifestyle.Integrated care synchronises medical treatment with lifestyle management by treating the condition with allopathy complemented by food, body and mind therapies to achieve a full recovery. A holistic approach results in the successful and effective integration of conventional treatment and lifestyle management in treating cancer patients. In an integrated approach, patients are empowered to accept and deal with their diagnoses efficiently. Most, if not all patients fear the treatment side effects and the results of it, more than the cancer itself. By incorporating integrated systems of care, patients are given the right dose of treatment (targeted therapy) along with effective therapies that manage side effects of treatment, immunity, nutritional, physical and mental/emotional disabilities to improve the quality of life, manage the treatment better and make significant lifestyle changes which can lead to a decrease in relapse rates.
Lastly, diagnosis of cancer not only impacts the patient but it can also have an adverse effect on the caregivers and immediate family members. A caregiver, though often ignored, plays a crucial role in a patient’s recovery. They take it upon themselves to help the patient to manage their condition better. However, due to lack of knowledge about the right kind of care, they end up going about it the wrong way. From providing wrong type of therapy to ineffective diet plans or failing to help with psychological condition of the patients, caregivers are not trained to deal with the emotional, physical and nutritional requirements of a patient. Therefore, it is essential that a patient receives the right kind of therapy from healthcare specialists.
Integrated systems of care have now proven to work more effectively than just using conventional forms of treatment by itself. Therefore, while we are introducing more and more advanced treatment options and drugs into the market, the fundamental change needs to be made in the way we treat a patient. We will experience a major difference in cancer as a whole, if integrative medicine becomes a part of mainstream care. Every patient needs to incorporate these systems and must become the norm in treating cancer in India.