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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  What about Conventional, Integrative, and Alternative Cancer Care?

What about Conventional, Integrative, and Alternative Cancer Care?

By Jeannine Walston


Answer to CancerTo understand integrative cancer care (ICC), it helps to better comprehend the difference about varied health care concepts in the community. For more information, check out these explanations with clarifications to help your conversations and most importantly navigation to heal through cancer.

How does integrative cancer care work differently compared to conventional cancer care?

Conventional cancer care treats the disease and not the whole person. More specifically, conventional cancer care focuses on conventional cancer treatments with therapies such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, molecular targets, and other potential interventions described in my article Conventional Cancer Treatments. The conventional cancer community says that they only provide evidence-based medicine. That is not true. Some conventional oncologists have there own interpretations of research studies. Overall, some are not aware of all or even most of the published cancer studies.

Integrative cancer care combines conventional cancer treatments with whole person health and healing. The necessity for cancer patients requires locating the best available interventions to improve quality of life and cancer survival. Studies show that integrative cancer care from quality providers is the answer.

But some conventional providers say anything else beyond conventional cancer care is alternative cancer care. What does alternative cancer care mean and how can I navigate through my cancer journey?

The term alternative cancer treatments indicate an either/or perspective. Alternative cancer treatments refer to being separate from versus in combination with all appropriate conventional approaches, providers, and disciplines for optimal health and healing. Alternative cancer treatments suggest competition with the conventional, mainstream cancer care system. The definition and practice of evidence-based alternative cancer treatments continues to merge into an inclusive integrative cancer care model.

Another important aspect of alternative cancer treatments occasionally involve cancer therapies that are alternative through a lack of safety and efficacy. This has been a complicated situation depending on both the treatments and quality of providers. Learn more to evaluate alternative cancer treatments and providers in my articles Evidence-Based Medicine, Cancer Clinical Trials, and Questions for Evaluating Cancer Treatments and Providers.

What else are leading perspectives also saying about integrative medicine and alternative medicine?

The book Integrative Oncology by Donald Abrams, MD and Andy Weil, MD says the following about integrative medicine and alternative medicine in Dr. Weil’s chapter Why Integrative Oncology?

“Many people consider integrative medicine (IM) and alternative medicine synonymous. This is not the case. Alternative medicine comprises all those therapies not taught in conventional (allopathic) medical schools, based on ideas that range from sensible and worth including in mainstream medicine to those that are foolish and a few that are dangerous.”

More simply, what are definitions for CAM, CIM, complementary, alternative, holistic, and natural medicine?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
CAM is a broad category of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are either used together with (complementary) or separate from (alternative) conventional medicine.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM)
CIM is also a broad category integrating wellness-promoting activities that are not typically a part of conventional medical care to complement and not replace Western medical care.

Complementary Medicine
Complementary medicine refers to using alternative medicine as an adjunct and conventional medicine as the core treatment approach.

Alternative Medicine
Alternative medicine involves holistic therapies used separate from, and not in combination with, conventional medicine.

Holistic Medicine
Holistic medicine approaches health care and healing with knowledge about the organic and functional relationship between the parts and the whole with attention to the complete system.

Natural Medicine
Natural medicine involves organic approaches and philosophies, including therapies from nature and/or interventions that stimulate the individual’s natural capacity to heal.

Are these labels exact?

Sometimes, but not always. Consumers and providers may have different definitions for the terms integrative, CAM, CIM, complementary, alternative, holistic, and natural medicine. Know their definitions and broader understanding are evolving. Health care labels as conventional or unconventional have been changing as health care practices improve through best available external clinical evidence from systemic research, expertise by health care providers, along with patients’ values, self-advocacy, and even quality research in the process.

What is the best health care model for cancer patients?

The answer is integrative cancer care. Studies show that integrative cancer care improves quality of life and cancer survival. For these outcomes, integrative cancer care treats the whole person through the entire physical body, mind, spirit, social, and environmental health. Explore those aspects of the whole person in detail throughout this website. You can also learn more about Cancer Diagnosis Navigation.