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What is Integrative Oncology?


by Jill Shainhouse, ND Fabno, CKN Section Editor

Integrative Medicine combines treatments from conventional medicine and complementary / alternative medicine for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness, in an effort to treat the whole person. In partnership with our IM Section Editor, Dr. Jill Shainhouse, we are pleased to be able to help you navigate your way through this often confusing field, to find quality, evidence-based material you can trust.  Stay tuned …. there’s lots more to come.

There is a growing interest in implementing naturopathic therapies alongside traditional treatments with regards to treating cancer.  The Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP) exists to help provide regulation for naturopathic doctors treating cancer patients.  OncANP has also developed a board certification program for ND’s wanting to specialize in the area of naturopathic cancer treatment. The goal of a board certified Naturopathic Oncologist (FABNO- Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncologists) is to provide evidence-based, scientifically sound individualized care.

The goals of Integrative Oncology:

  • Help to decrease the side effects of conventional cancer treatment
  • Improving energy, well being and overall quality of life
  • Balance and support of the body’s immune system
  • Providing insight and strategies for cancer prevention and health maintenance
  • Supporting the mind, body and spirit in the healing process

The following modalities may be implemented in an “individualized treatment plan”:

  • Nutrition and lifestyle counselling
  • Botanical or herbal medicine
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture

Nutrition and Supplementation:

There are many “nutraceuticals” or natural supplements that have been shown to have efficacy in treating a variety of cancers.  When treating an individual, the specific pathology of that patient’s cancer and the pharmaceuticals for that patient are taken into consideration before any natural prescription is made.  Attention is paid to specific pathways that the drugs and supplements utilize, so that there is no accidental increase or decrease in the metabolism of a drug.  If there is an overall  benefit for a particular supplement to be used alongside a specific drug, the two are prescribed simultaneously.  For example, studies have shown that taking L-glutamine in large doses can prevent chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (numbness and pain in the hands and feet) without compromising the effectiveness of the drug.

Herbal Medicine:

The use of plant compounds to improve patient outcomes from a variety of different angles is possible.  Ginger is a well-studied herb that has been shown to reduce the adverse event of nausea and vomiting in a variety of chemotherapeutic regimes.  Specific mushroom compounds such as AHCC or activated hexose correlated compound have been shown to support the immune system. Prevention of an undesirable drastic drop in white cell count during treatment has also been attributed to AHCC.   Curcumin is one of the most heavily studied extracts.  Studies show that high doses of curcumin are required to have the maximum benefit and achieve blood levels that can impact cancer cells.  New advances in the world of natural pharmacy have found preparations combining the curcumin extract with a fatty molecule have the greatest impact on cancer cells.  Research has shown that curcumin can suppress tumour initiation, continued growth and spread.  It is also a potent anti-inflammatory.  Curcumin can reduce a phenomenon known as chemo-resistance  which happens when a chemotherapy drug initially works well and subsequently the tumour cells begin to outsmart the drug.  Curcumin has been shown to improve the efficacy of radiation therapy by making the cancer cells more susceptible to the effects of radiation, which is known as radiosensitization.


Homeopathic remedies are used on a case by case basis and can be used two different ways.  They can be prescribed for acute conditions or adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiation.  They can also be used from a constitutional perspective to treat the overall picture that a patient presents with.  Some hospitals have done research on specific Homeopathic remedies and combinations of Homeopathic remedies.  One study was done in collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center on the particular remedy, Ruta 6 with a specific type of brain tumour called a glioma.

Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture:

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for centuries.  Acupuncture has been clinically proven to help patients deal with a wide range of conditions stemming from both chemotherapy and radiation.  In reviewing the literature, it appears that acupuncture protocols are effective in treating everything from hot flashes induced by specific drugs causing hormonal change to nausea.  Acupuncture has also proved quite effective at helping to manage cancer-related pain.


Neth J Med. 2012 Jan;70(1):18-25. Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity: the value of neuroprotective strategies. Beijers AJ, Jongen JL, Vreugdenhil G.  Department of Internal Medicine, Maxima Medical Centre, Veldhoven, the Netherlands

Integr Cancer Ther. 2012 Feb 7. Effect of Ginger on Acute and Delayed Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting: A Pilot, Randomized, Open-Label Clinical Trial.

Panahi Y, Saadat A, Sahebkar A, Hashemian F, Taghikhani M, Abolhasani E.

Research Center of Chemical Injuries, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e29794. Epub 2012 Jan 17. Phase I evaluation of intravenous ascorbic acid in combination with gemcitabine and erlotinib in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Monti DA, Mitchell E, Bazzan AJ, Littman S, Zabrecky G, Yeo CJ, Pillai MV, Newberg AB, Deshmukh S, Levine M. Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.

Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2011 May;67(5):1157-66. Epub 2010 Aug 8. Ascorbate exerts anti-proliferative effects through cell cycle inhibition and sensitizes tumor cells towards cytostatic drugs.Frömberg A, Gutsch D, Schulze D, Vollbracht C, Weiss G, Czubayko F, Aigner A. Institute of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Philipps-University Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch-Strasse 1, 35032 Marburg, Germany.

J Exp Ther Oncol. 2009;8(1):43-51.Alleviating effect of active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) for anticancer drug-induced side effects in non-tumor-bearing mice. Shigama K, Nakaya A, Wakame K, Nishioka H, Fujii H. Amino Up Chemical Co., Ltd., 363-32 Shin-ei, Kiyota, Sapporo 004-0839, Japan.

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2011 Sep 15;255(3):327-38. Epub 2011 Jul 24.  Curcumin enhances the mitomycin C-induced cytotoxicity via downregulation of MKK1/2-ERK1/2-mediated Rad51 expression in non-small cell lung cancer cells. Ko JC, Tsai MS, Weng SH, Kuo YH, Chiu YF, Lin YW. Department of Internal Medicine, Hsinchu Hospital, Department of Health, The Executive Yuan, Taiwan

Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Oct 7.Curcuma as a functional food in the control of cancer and inflammation. Schaffer M, Schaffer PM, Zidan J, Sela GB. Source aInstitute of Oncology, Ziv Medical Center, and Faculty of Medicine, Zefat, Israel bClinic Bad Trissl, Oncology Center, Oberaudorf, Germany cDivision of Oncology, Rambam Healthcare Campus, and Faculty of Medicine, Technion, Haifa, Israel

Int J Oncol. 2003 Oct;23(4):975-82. Ruta 6 selectively induces cell death in brain cancer cells but proliferation in normal peripheral blood lymphocytes: A novel treatment for human brain cancer.

Pathak S, Multani AS, Banerji P, Banerji P. Department of Molecular Genetics, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA

Cancer. 2011 Nov 9. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26550. Randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for prevention of radiation-induced xerostomia among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Meng Z, Garcia MK, Hu C, Chiang J, Chambers M, Rosenthal DI, Peng H, Zhang Y, Zhao Q, Zhao G, Liu L, Spelman A, Palmer JL, Wei Q, Cohen L. Department of Integrative Oncology, Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, Shanghai, China


Dr. Jill Shainhouse B.Sc, ND, FABNO is the founder of the Insight Naturopathic Clinic. She received her Honours Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Western Ontario prior to graduating from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.  Dr. Shainhouse was on staff at Toronto’s Medicor Cancer Centres as the naturopathic oncology consultant when the clinic first opened in 2007.  

Dr. Shainhouse has a special interest in treating cancer and chronic disease.  With her mentor in 2007, she started the Adjunctive Cancer Care Program at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM).   She is currently the one of few naturopathic doctors in Ontario to obtain a specialized board certification in naturopathic oncology and maintains both a private practice in Toronto and also supervises at the Robert Schad Clinic in the CCNM. 

Dr. Shainhouse’s goal in treating cancer patients is to provide safe and effective support during or after conventional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.   

Dr. Shainhouse is additionally certified in intravenous therapy and has completed additional training in central vascular access and advanced parenteral therapy.  She is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. the Society for Integrative Oncology and the International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine.



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4 Responses to What is Integrative Oncology?

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