Integrative Medicine for Childhood Cancer Patients Definitions and Resources

Integrative Medicine for Childhood Cancer Patients Definitions and Resources

This blog has been updated since initial posting in 2021.

Integrative medicineYou just received the worst news any parent can hear…your child has cancer, and now you have to poison your child to cure it! You want what is best. You feel you have no other treatment choice than chemo because outcomes are quantifiable, tested, and have a history of curing cancer. You are scared, wishing you had healthy, alternative treatments, but don’t want to roll the dice with risky treatment choices.

Where Do You Turn for Advice?

Where do parents look for treatment help when their child is diagnosed with cancer? Most parents will turn to their oncology team, who are highly skilled at fighting pediatric cancer. But are there other options available than traditional, Westernized medicine? And are doctors open to including these treatments? Some families turn to integrative medicine for solutions. Integrative medicine (IM) is a form of medical care that merges standard medical care with complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies that provide positive healing to a child’s mind, body, and spirit.

Forms of Integrative Medicine and Complementary & Alternative Medicine

Some forms of IM and CAM include the following treatments:

  • Acupuncture-a method of inserting thin needles into the skin to stimulate specific areas of the body. Acupuncture is often used to reduce nausea and pain.
  • Diet/nutrition-a wide range of dietary modifications involving food choices such as low or no sugar, low-fat, high fiber, vegan, gluten-free, and other eating plans. Proper nutrition can minimize unpleasant symptoms and aid in treatment recovery.
  • Meditation/relaxation– a variety of techniques incorporating concentration and reflection to promote stress relief within the body and mind during and after cancer treatment.
  • Vitamins/herbal supplements-an assortment of treatment products that are generally taken by mouth or applied to the skin. They include multivitamins, which aid in the rebuilding of the immune system. Probiotics are supplements containing microorganisms that help improve digestion.
  • Yoga-a form of non-aerobic exercise which incorporates movement and breathing. The benefits of this exercise can improve flexibility and decrease stress and fatigue.

Each year more hospitals and cancer centers are starting to incorporate IM into cancer treatment programs. From the Stanford Center For Integrative Medicine to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, medical organizations nationwide embrace the positive effects of IM and CAM therapies; this also includes pediatric cancer treatments.

Approach Your Child’s Doctors with Facts

It is important to remember that even though “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine” are often grouped as “complementary and alternative medicine,” they are different. Like IM, complementary medicine is used along with traditional medicine, while alternative medicine is a replacement for conventional medicine. Parents must know the differences before starting research.

Even with IM and CAM therapies becoming more mainstream, there is still some reluctance from the established medical community about embracing these treatment types. There are some genuine reasons why alternative therapies are not fully embraced. They may cause adverse side effects when used with other cancer-fighting drugs. Oncologists explain that chemo kills cancer cells while adding vitamins and other body-building alternatives bolster good cells and cancer cells. There are also concerns that these alternative medicines are not thoroughly researched and are nothing more than cancer treatment fraud. So before approaching your child’s doctors, come prepared with solid research and factual information.

Trustworthy Internet Research

The internet is full of information, but it is not always accurate or trustworthy. An excellent place to start your research is accessing legitimate and trusted organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This government agency is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services and is the nation’s leading medical research bureau. Within the NIH is the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). The goal of the NCCIH is to research “diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not considered part of conventional medicine.” The NCCIH is a wealth of information regarding IM and CAM therapies.

Many other organizations provide information and questions to ask while talking to your child’s doctors. Some useful websites include:

NCCIH-finding and evaluating online resources

Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health

  • Webpage:
  • Their mission is to “advance the principles and practices of integrative healthcare within academic institutions.” Their members include 70 academic medical centers and health systems across the United States.

The Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine

  • Webpage:
  • As an organization bringing together a global community of health professionals and health info seekers, this website provides integrative health information. The directory includes a list of board-certified physicians across the country.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

  • Webpage:
  • The FDA is the US government agency that oversees many products’ safety, such as foods, medicines, and nutritional supplements. This webpage provides specific information regarding dietary supplements.

MedlinePlus from the National Institutes of Health

  • Webpage:
  • This US government organization (affiliated with the NIH) maintains the US National Library of Medicine site and includes dietary supplement and medication information.

Federal Trade Commission

Fight for Your Child’s Best Treatment Options

As pediatric cancer research progresses each year, the treatment options available to children fighting cancer also increase. Better treatment options are great news for parents, but finding the safest and best choices for their child can be overwhelming. Traditional medicine increases the cure rate for many children, but the treatment can be devastating and cause other health issues. Having IM and CAM prospects available to aid during and after treatment are vitally important. Talk to your doctor about what options would be beneficial and useful to your child. Do not be afraid to talk about IM and CAM therapies if you believe they can help. You are the best advocate for your child’s health.

At Here To Serve, we are devoted to you and your child during this uncertain time, providing judgment-free support during this cancer fight. Our Family Care Coordinators will help conduct a needs assessment and connect you with valuable resources tailored to your needs. 

Author: Christopher Smith

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.