Helpful Guidelines: Integrative Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients

Since October is “Breast Cancer Awareness” month, this post will highlight integrative therapies that can help breast cancer patients and survivors. In November of 2014, the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) published a resource entitled, “Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Use of Integrative Therapies as Supportive Care in Patients Treated for Breast Cancer”. These guidelines recommend evidence-based therapies to relieve the symptoms and side effects of breast cancer treatments. 

In order to recommend the highest quality integrative therapies, the SIO’s panel of experts searched nine medical databases for studies applicable to breast cancer and its treatment. Of nearly 5,000 articles found, 203 were randomized controlled trials that met the SIO’s criteria for further evaluation. After assessing the quality of evidence of each study outcome, the SIO wrote recommendations for the therapies with the highest quality of evidence and highest certainty of benefit.

For example, we know that good quality sleep is important for women affected by breast cancer. For the symptom of poor sleep, the SIO recommends gentle yoga and stress management techniques (a category which includes mind-body and relaxation therapies like tai chi and guided imagery). For hot flashes, experienced by many women during and after treatment, the SIO found acupuncture to be effective.  Acupuncture is also recommended for the joint pain some experience while taking aromatase inhibitors. Other integrative therapies in the guidelines include yoga, massage therapy, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Many integrative therapies do not have a sufficient body of evidence from research trials for the SIO to evaluate their effectiveness, especially in the area of natural products (dietary supplements and herbs). More studies are needed before recommendations for these products can be made. As findings from new research becomes available, the SIO will update these guidelines. Studies like the CHOICE Study will contribute to the body of research in integrative therapies for breast cancer care, and will help patients and their doctors make the best treatment decisions.

 For more information about the SIO, please visit their website. To read more about the guidelines, please click on this LINK.