Healthcare in India is in itself a huge challenge with the patient to clinician ratio being extremely poor. More importantly the lack of affordability particularly in the rural / economically deprived parts of India is a humongous problem. To compound this problem, if a person is diagnosed with cancer the treatment and recovery become a huge challenge with the prohibitive costs of first line cancer treatments.
With steadily rising costs, the approach is rapidly shifting towards integrated and holistic oncology treatment. This treatment provides good standard of care combined with alternate complimentary treatments. This makes the cure more affordable along with addressing the unmet medical needs of cancer – i.e. nausea, cachexia, muscle fatigue, etc.
Integrated oncology is committed to delivering high quality cancer care. The focus is on improving the patient’s endurance to receive aggressive cancer treatment by enhancing his/ her overall well being with good nutrition, stress reduction, boosting immune system, lifestyle modifications according to disease specific needs, physical rehab, individual and family counseling among others. All these ensure that the cancer treatment can be more effective and better tolerated.
The focus is on all the dimensions of a patient’s well being including physical, psychological, social, spiritual thereby providing holistic care through a patient and family centered approach. This personalized care can in turn enhance the treatment outcome. Some of the integrated approaches are:
Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating. Mind has a very powerful impact on the body and the negative dysfunctional thoughts could have a detrimental impact on the way patients feel and behave and in turn hinder the treatment process and outcome. Mind-Body medicine helps the overall emotional well being during cancer treatment by focusing on screening patients and caregivers for dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs, depression, anxiety, anticipatory grief and help with individual and family counselling, stress reduction strategies, pharmacotherapy for depression and anxiety including offering support groups for patients and caregivers.
All cancer patients have some amount of malnourishment either due to the cancer itself or due to the side effects of treatment. Nutrition therapy focuses on maintaining an adequate calorie balanced diet to maintain the lean body mass which is key in fighting cancer. Educating people on the positive and negative impact that nutrition supplements and alternative medicine can have on their health is also key. The toxicity of chemotherapy can be reduced by supportive care thereby increasing the patient’s tolerance to treatment, resulting in better efficacy and outcomes.
Pain and Symptom Management
Most cancer individuals will have some degree of physical pain or other symptoms related to cancer or treatment itself. Focus is on managing aggressive pain by interventional pain and palliative care. This improves the quality of life and ability to focus on treatment and other daily activities.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese procedure with many medical benefits. Acupuncture can be offered for symptom management of chemotherapy induced refractory nausea, vomiting, symptom of dry mouth due to radiation, and also alleviate stress and hot flashes.
Cancer patients usually have some amount of fatigue either due to disease or treatment. In rehab focus is on building patient strength and endurance to help keep up with daily activities and tolerate treatment thus maintaining a good quality of life.
Patients with cancer have spiritual and emotional challenges. This needs to be addressed for overall well being and improved treatment outcome. Concerted efforts can be made to handle the spiritual needs of patients and their family.
Yoga and Relaxation Techniques
Yoga is well known for many health benefits. Fatigue is a major problem in cancer patients and yoga has been proven to help with fatigue. Simple stress free yoga techniques for revitalising patient energy through pranayama is extremely helpful. Focus is mainly on reducing stress, anxiety and helping with good sleep. Music and art therapy is also known to achieve the same objective of relaxation and better tolerance to the disease and treatment.
In conclusion one can say that although there is no complete replacement of standard oncological treatment , integrating it with other forms help patients deal with the disease in a more effective and elegant way.
(The opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 1Crowd.)
Author: Dr. Nirupa Bareja
About the author: Dr. Nirupa Bareja heads the Indian operations for Vicus Therapeutics, a US headquartered biotechnology and therapeutics company. She is also a Chief Advisor at the Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation, Bangalore and is on the scientific & technical advisory board of two innovative start-up companies – SigTuple & Aten Porous. Dr. Bareja is also a part of 1Crowd’s mentorship panel.