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Integrative Medicine in Hematology/Oncology: Benefits, Ethical Considerations, and Controversies

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Integrative Medicine in Hematology/Oncology: Benefits, Ethical Considerations, and Controversies

David S Rosenthal et al. Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program.

Abstract

Integrative Medicine (IM), a newly emerging field, has evolved from Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). CAM refers to diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered part of conventional medicine and generally have limited scientific evidence. In the US, CAM is a multi-billion dollar, unregulated industry with potential benefits and risks to consumers, including cancer patients, who are high utilizers of complementary therapies. Patients' CAM use often is unsupervised by physicians, yet patients need the advice and guidance of their hematologists/oncologists as part of total cancer care. Ethical and legal issues physicians need to address include inquiring about and educating patients regarding potential interactions (e.g., drug-herb, radiation-antioxidant) or product contaminants, while discussing other therapies that may alleviate symptoms and/or improve quality of life. Administratively, CAM offerings in medical settings require relevant policies and procedures, such as properly credentialing practitioners and providing financial assistance counseling for those who cannot afford fee-for-service. Unlike "Alternative Medicine," the goal of IM is to combine mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies (e.g., acupuncture, meditation, music therapy) that have some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness. The Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO), a new international organization of oncology professionals studying and integrating effective complementary therapies in cancer care, serves as a forum for presenting scientific data on these therapies while emphasizing the importance of developing infrastructure that promotes IM principles and practices. The ultimate goal is to develop multidisciplinary expertise and therapeutic synergy between conventional and complementary therapies.

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