Personalized Integrative Cancer Care: Focus of the 11th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology

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Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD, MPH

John Mendelsohn, MD

Suzanna Zick, ND, MPH

Debu Tripathy, MD

There were several aspects of the 11th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO), held October 26-28, 2014, in Houston, that distinguished it from past years. One major change was that this year’s conference was held in collaboration with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, bridging conventional oncology and the use of evidence-based integrative oncology modalities.

“We are making great inroads in establishing evidence-based information to guide the use of integrative medicine in oncology care,” said Heather ­Greenlee, ND, PhD, MPH, Immediate Past President of SIO and Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York. “It was very exciting that the conference was cohosted by the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Several basic and clinical scientists from the institution presented their research on where integrative medicine can intersect with state-of-the-art oncology care.”

The theme of the 2014 conference, Personalized Integrative Oncology: Targeted Approaches for Optimal Outcomes, also marked a first. The keynote address, “The Contribution of Genomics to Integrative Oncology,” presented by John Mendelsohn, MD, Director of the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy at MD Anderson and past President of MD Anderson, built on that concept of personalized integrative oncology and explored how integrative modalities can support patients both during and after conventional treatment.

“Dr. Mendelsohn’s address sparked a dynamic discussion in which the audience members asked questions about how to apply genomics to determine which patients would benefit most from the use of various integrative therapies to ameliorate side effects from their cancer and its treatment,” said Suzanna Zick, ND, MPH, President of SIO and Associate Research Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “I think that conversation was novel for some people, and for others, it was one they had been waiting to have for a long time.”

Also new in 2014 was the incorporation of a clinical track into the program geared toward providing physicians with information they can use in their clinical practice, including sessions on Cancer Symptom Control; Energy Balance; and The Impact of Sleep, Fatigue, and Circadian Rhythms on Patients With Cancer. “We have been hearing for a long time that some clinicians, while interested in the research presented, also wanted to have relevant take-home information they can apply in their practices the next day,” said Dr. Greenlee. “So, we listened and created a clinical track, which was very popular.”

Worldwide Attraction

The 2014 conference attracted over 300 oncologists, internal medicine physicians, researchers, nurses, integrative medicine practitioners, cancer survivors, and patient advocates from 17 countries and presented 151 scientific abstracts, setting a new record. For a second year in a row, SIO received a National Cancer Institute conference grant to fund travel expenses for patient advocates, which also provided a specific training track for the advocates. In addition, travel scholarships were awarded to five junior investigators.

Clinical Practice Guidelines for Breast Cancer Survivors

One of the conference highlights was the presentation of new clinical practice guidelines on the use of integrative therapies as supportive care during breast cancer treatment, which were developed by SIO members and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs.1 The guidelines’ authors followed the Institute of Medicine’s guideline development process, which included a systematic review of randomized controlled clinical trials testing the use of integrative therapies for supportive care in patients receiving breast cancer treatment.

The recommendations presented in the clinical practice guidelines are organized by patient outcome and graded based on a modified version of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force grading system.2 The new guidelines are meant to provide both clinicians and breast cancer survivors with evidence-based information on specific integrative therapies that are effective in the supportive care setting.

“We wanted to create a tool for both providers and patients, so they can have an informed discussion about which integrative therapies work and which ones don’t, depending on their specific goals. We are now in the process of taking the information in these guidelines and creating patient-friendly educational materials,” said Dr. Greenlee. Dr. Greenlee co-chaired the guideline development process with Debu Tripathy, MD, Professor and Chair of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Vice Chair of the Southwest Oncology Group Breast Committee.

Looking Ahead

The goal of SIO is to ensure even greater participation by integrative practitioners, researchers, cancer survivors, and patient advocates in the 2015 conference and to continue building support for the incorporation of evidence-based integrative medicine into oncology care by educating medical professionals about the state of the science.

“In addition to attracting more people to our conference with the best science in integrative medicine and producing more clinical practice guidelines, we want to tackle developing educational guidelines in integrative medicine for oncologists and oncology nurses,” said Dr. Zick. “We want integrative practitioners to have the latest knowledge about integrative therapies, and we are looking into developing a benchmark for training. We want to ensure that as more cancer centers develop integrative programs, they have guidance on what constitutes a qualified practitioner.”

Save the Date

The 12th International Conference of the SIO will be held November 14-16, 2015, in Boston. The first day will include a joint program of the Society for Acupuncture Research, the Fascia Research Society, and SIO. For more information on SIO, visit ■

Disclosure: Drs. Greenlee, Mendelsohn, and Zick reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. Greenlee H, Balneaves LG, Carlson LE, et al: Clinical practice guidelines on the use of integrative therapies as supportive care in patients treated for breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Monogr 50:346-358, 2014.

2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: Grade definitions. Available at Accessed December 22, 2014.

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