Advancing the Global Impact of Integrative Oncology

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The SIO conference has become a source for high-quality research as well as a place for everyone from naturopaths, acupuncturists, and nutritionists to nurses and physicians to connect and get a broad perspective of what’s happening in this field.
— Lynda Balneaves, PhD, RN

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The 13th International Conference of the Society of Integrative Oncology (SIO) held in Miami, Florida, in November, drew its largest audience yet, with nearly 400 clinicians, researchers, patients, and patient advocates in integrative oncology care from 25 countries in attendance with large contingents of participants coming from China, Europe, and Central America, and South America. “We are beginning to see integrative oncology medicine as a global specialty now largely because the research being done in this field is starting to have a global impact on cancer care in general,” said Lynda Balneaves, PhD, RN, President-Elect of SIO and Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

And the impact of the research being conducted in integrative medicine on a global level was on full display during the conference’s three keynote addresses, with presentations from Michael Irwin, MD, the Norman Cousins Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, on his research in mind/body practices to promote sleep health; Yung Chi-Cheng, PhD, the Henry Bronson Professor of Pharmacology at Yale University, on translational pharmacology in traditional Chinese herbal medicine; and Vinjar Fønnebø, MD, PhD, Director of the National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Tromsø in Norway, on health-policy issues on integrative oncology from the European perspective.

Building on the theme of this year’s conference, Advancing the Global Impact of Integrative Oncology, in addition to the three keynote presentations, were four plenary sessions: Integrative Oncology Health Policy and Practices Around the Globe; Natural Products and Nutrition Intervention in Cancer Care; Caring, Culture, and Integrative Oncology: Global Perspectives; and Innovative Mind-Body Interventions for Regulating Health Outcomes. There were also workshops conducted on Integrative Oncology and Survivorship Program Development, Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery, and Cannabis in Cancer Care, as well as 157 scientific abstracts presented, including the 5 Best of SIO oral presentations (see sidebar).

Gaining Momentum

The success of this year’s conference is the culmination of 13 years of the field of integrative oncology maturing and becoming accepted by oncology professionals as a legitimate and important component of patient care, according to Dr. Balneaves.

“Over the years, the quality and amount of research presented at our conferences have become much stronger, and it has become a place for professionals in every discipline to come and see the latest research and the new directions in integrative medicine. The SIO conference has become a source for high-quality research in this field as well as a place for everyone from naturopaths, acupuncturists, and nutritionists to nurses and physicians to connect and learn and get a broad perspective of what’s happening in this field,” revealed Dr. Balneaves. Currently, SIO is at its highest membership, with over 520 members from 32 countries.

Linda E. Carlson, PhD

Linda E. Carlson, PhD

Linda E. Carlson, PhD, Professor in the Department of Oncology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and Vice President of Communication for SIO, agrees. “I can’t find the kind of research presented at this conference anywhere else in my discipline. We are seeing an increase in the number of attendees and in the quality of research presented because so many groups around the world are starting to develop their own integrative oncology programs in their institutions,” she explained. “As integrative medicine becomes more incorporated into conventional oncology care, we are seeing more people drawn to this field and interested in the research and evidence supporting its use.”

The result, said Dr. Balneaves, is that patients are benefiting from more inclusive care, which takes into account not just their physical needs, but their spiritual, emotional, and relational needs as well. “Our hope is that not only will patients have a better experience going through their cancer treatment, but throughout their survivorship as well,” she added.

Another reason integrative approaches are gaining a foothold in medical care, especially in the United States, said Dr. Balneaves, is the growing opioid epidemic. “There is a recognition of very high levels of opioid misuse and addiction for dealing with chronic pain conditions, so there has been a push to find nonpharmacologic solutions to manage pain syndromes. Some complementary approaches like mindfulness meditation and acupuncture have been proven to be effective and [less expensive] than pharmacologic pain medication, and it’s a way to avoid becoming addicted to opiates.”

Save the Date

The 14th International Conference of the Society of Integrative Oncology will be held on November 11–13, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. The theme of the conference will be Person-Centered Care in Integrative Oncology: Innovations, Impact, and Implementation.

For additional information on SIO, visit ■

Disclosure: Dr. Balneaves and Dr. Carlson reported no potential conflicts of interest.

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