Our purpose is to be a global facilitator of health and wellness through access, education and advancement of Traditional & Complementary Medicine (T&CM). The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that lifestyle-related diseases (or non-communicable diseases) are responsible for more than 70% of deaths worldwide each year.
Knowledge represents empowerment. By sharing this evidence-based, peer-reviewed research, we aim to support everyday people to take ownership of their wellness, by making informed decisions and choices in conjunction with their health professional.
How This Study Could Help Support Your Cancer Treatment
In 2018, cancer was estimated by the WHO to be responsible for one in six of all deaths worldwide, making it second only to cardiovascular disease as a leading cause of mortality. This qualitative study explored the experiences of cancer survivors, in the context of combining T&CM with conventional cancer treatment, a practice known as ‘integrative oncology’. The study is titled:
AUSTRALIAN INTEGRATIVE ONCOLOGY SERVICES: A MIXED-METHOD STUDY EXPLORING THE VIEWS OF CANCER SURVIVORS.
You can read the full study here: https://bit.ly/2WqjRgp
Why Is This Study Important?
In Australia, it is estimated that up to two-thirds of cancer patients utilise “at least one form of complementary therapy during or after their cancer treatment.” The positive experiences described by participants in this study emphasise how valued T&CM is from a patient perspective, regardless of mainstream medical or political opinion.
However, financial barriers, lack of support from medical practitioners, problems with accessibility and other obstacles limit the ability of cancer patients to utilise integrative oncology services. It is also documented that the cancer survival rates of people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities are lower than those of Anglo-Australian patients due to poorer English ability and less knowledge of the health system.
Well-designed qualitative studies that reveal patterns in patient experiences of integrative oncology represent an important step in changing attitudes among medical healthcare providers.
Statistical evidence of trends in this field are also needed in order to lay the foundations for ensuring more equitable healthcare, and ultimately guide policy regarding funding and service provision.
What Does This Mean For My Wellness?
At the institutional level, this study provides structured information for oncology teams about the realities of integrating T&CM with conventional treatment, promoting better health outcomes for their patients. The evidence of consistently positive experiences from cancer survivors who have received integrative oncology treatment reinforces the validity and importance of integrating T&CM into a cancer treatment program.
The value placed on T&CM by cancer survivors may also challenge the attitudes of some medical professionals about what constitutes optimal care. The barriers and unmet needs identified in the study may guide policy regarding how T&CM is discussed and provided in the context of cancer treatment. The authors emphasised the need for better funding of integrative oncology services, so this study and others like it in future may help make T&CM more financially accessible for cancer patients.
At an individual level, if you have been diagnosed with cancer, the experiences of participants in this study may be valuable in guiding your questions and interactions with your medical team. The trend of positive perception reported by the authors represents valuable information if you are evaluating whether to utilise T&CM as part of your cancer treatment. On the other hand, the barriers identified in the study may empower you by helping you anticipate and prepare for obstacles you may encounter.
How Does This Relate to Integrative Oncology?
Integrative oncology refers to the combining of T&CM interventions or services with conventional cancer care. Cancer survivors who participated in this study viewed the role of T&CM, not as a ‘luxury item’, but as “an essential part of recovery”.
However, despite their positive experiences with T&CM therapies, the obstacles they encountered when trying to utilise these therapies highlighted the need to provide adequate funding, as well as better integration with conventional cancer treatment.
In 2018, researchers affiliated with NICM (National Institute of Complementary Medicine) Research Institute, as well as other Australian institutions, published their findings from a mixed-method study seeking the experiences of cancer survivors with regard to integrative oncology services. The researchers recruited cancer survivors from Arabic, Chinese, Greek and Vietnamese communities, as well as Anglo-Australian patients, for focus-group interviews. Logistical constraints prevented the recruitment of Indigenous participants.
Interpreters were employed to ensure language was not a barrier to understanding. The responses of the 33 participants in these focus groups, as well as the 121 results from an online survey, provided the raw data which formed the basis of the study.
The researchers mentioned that various statistics are available regarding use of T&CM in the context of cancer treatment. However, to convey the real-life nuances and implications that could guide improvements to the Australian healthcare system, a study with a qualitative focus on actual patient experiences was needed.
Key Findings About Integrative Oncology Services in Australia
- The most commonly used modalities included massage/ touch, mental-health support, movement-based treatments such as yoga, nutrition/naturopathy, acupuncture and other traditional Chinese therapies, and bodywork such as chiropractic and osteopathy.
- The “positive perceptions and experiences” of cancer survivors with relation to integrative oncology was the first of two overarching themes reported by the researchers. Some participants believed T&CM had helped them survive a “terminal” diagnosis, while others described the way it helped them manage secondary cancer-related health problems or existing problems that were exacerbated by the cancer.
- Participants emphasised the importance of receiving T&CM treatments from practitioners familiar with the specific needs of cancer patients.
- The other major pattern identified in the study involved “barriers and unmet needs”. Financial constraints were identified by 82% of the survey respondents as an “important obstacle” to utilising T&CM as part of their cancer treatment. Half of those participants said it was their only obstacle.
- Participants also highlighted the value of being provided with information about T&CM treatments by their healthcare professionals. They reported being referred directly to conventional treatment without consideration of T&CM options, or left to seek out information about T&CM treatments themselves.
- The authors reported 86% of survey respondents indicated that Medicare should pay for integrative oncology services.
BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles on interventions and resources that complement or replace conventional therapies, with a specific emphasis on research that explores the biological mechanisms of action, as well as their efficacy, safety, costs, patterns of use and/or implementation.
Quoted from journal description
Understanding Complementary Therapies | Cancer.org
Therapy | SoulAdvisor
Australian integrative oncology services: a mixed-method study exploring the views of cancer survivors | BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies
Cancer | World Health Organization