Navigating the World of Integrative Cancer Care

By: Katrina Allison, Naturopathic Medical Student

IG: @katrinaallison_health

The Do’s and Don’ts of Selecting an Integrative Cancer Care team.

Hi Carley’s Angels family! Katrina Allison here, cousin of our wonderful Carley Elle Allison, and 4th year Naturopathic Medical student at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. In my studies, clinical encounters and personal experience so far, it is clear that a large proportion of families affected by cancer seek out some means of natural treatment to add to conventional methods of chemo, radiation and surgery. I’ve just had the incredible opportunity to learn from several highly experienced Naturopathic Doctors in the world of natural cancer care, and it really struck me just how important it is that patients don’t do this work without guidance from a professional. So if you’re ready to add an integrative practitioner to your roster, here’s a few tips to help you find the best fit.

1. Find someone who has focused training in oncology

If you are seeking out any sort of integrative or complementary practitioners, for example Naturopathic Doctor, Registered Massage Therapist, or Certified Counsellor, to support you during your cancer journey, make sure they have training in adjunctive cancer care. This will ensure that they have experience with the common challenge’s cancer patients face through the many phases of treatment, and have been trained in aiding you through them safely and effectively. Since I am soon to be a Naturopathic Doctor, I will comment on the specific training that is recognized for ND’s who practice naturopathic oncology. Two titles to keep an eye out for are FABNO, standing for Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology, and OncANP, which stands for Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Naturopathic Doctors who possess the title FABNO have undergone additional training above and beyond the 4 years of medical training required of NDs, and have demonstrated advanced understanding of both conventional and natural cancer treatments. On the other hand, OncANP members are those who have an interest in Naturopathic Oncology and attend yearly conferences about the cutting-edge findings in cancer care, but this designation doesn’t represent the same rigorous certification process as FABNO. FABNO is the only true specialization a Naturopathic Doctor can have, representing a truly advanced skill set in this area of medicine. In an ideal world you find someone with both titles!

2. Find someone willing to communicate

One of the common hurdles patients with cancer encounter when using complimentary treatment methods, is a lack of effective communication between their medical oncologist and other health care providers. When considering adding any clinician to your care team, ask them what their protocol is in terms of communicating with anyone else you are seeing. Will they send consult notes updating your oncologist about any changes to your nutrition or supplement regimen? Are they open to discussing your care over the phone if there is anything that your providers need to collaborate on? If these questions are met with any hesitancy or defensiveness, consider seeking out another practitioner. Effective communication with all the members of your care team is vital during treatment. Some medical oncologists may not be a fan of you seeking out complimentary natural therapies, for fear that what other providers are doing will interfere with chemo, radiation or surgery. However, by ensuring you find a professional who is on top of their communication with your conventional docs, the likelihood that your medical oncologist will feel better about your use of natural therapies drastically increases. Plus it ensures you are safe and all your providers are on the same page!

3. Find someone who knows not only what to use, but WHEN to use WHAT

Some common natural treatments for cancer therapy or prevention are helpful during certain phases of treatment, but can be harmful during others. For example, green tea extract is a powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer agent, however it is highly advised against during active chemotherapy because one of the ways in which chemo works is by promoting oxidative damage to cancer cells. Therefore, green tea extract may be a great idea prior to and after chemo, but during chemo it is counterproductive and can lessen the effect of chemo. Because of the highly nuanced mechanisms by which natural therapies and chemotherapies work, the timing of every intervention needs to be carefully thought through. Making sure you have someone constantly monitoring your treatment protocols (both natural and conventional) to avoid all interactions and negative outcomes is extremely important. Plus, having someone to take care of the timelines makes sure you can focus on getting well.

– Katrina Allison, Naturopathic Medical Student

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