Guest Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) held its 2020 international conference in a virtual format. It focused on key issues of health disparities in integrative cancer care, innovative integrative oncology service delivery models, and globalization of integrative oncology research and practice. In this article, Drs. Carlson and Paller highlight the conference proceedings.
Linda E. Carlson, PhD, RPsych
Channing Paller, MD
Amid the challenges of adjusting to the many changes in 2020, the SIO Conference planning committee had to pivot quickly. In the spring of 2020, we made the wise decision to cancel our in-person conference planned for October in Baltimore. We postponed the event to 2021, replacing it with a fully virtual conference titled “COVID-19 and Integrative Oncology: Meeting the Global Challenges of Health Equity” held in October 2020. Through this theme we emphasized three main areas: health disparities in integrative cancer care; innovative integrative oncology service delivery models; and the globalization of integrative oncology research and practice. The full conference program can be found at https://integrativeonc.org/program/conference-program.
The conference featured new technology that allowed interactive participant engagement through discussion forums and virtual attendance at live workshops, panel discussions, keynote speaker presentations, symposia, as well as breakout sessions for our committees and special interest groups. Our conference application for smartphones and web browsers provided high levels of engagement among speakers and attendees from around the world.
Through a special conference grant from the National Capital Cancer Research Fund, we were able to award 82 conference scholarships, which were given in the form of new 1-year SIO memberships, including conference registration. The special grants program also enabled us to admit 39 international members as well as many new members from across North America. A total of 399 members registered for the conference from 31 countries. Our interactive platform was a success, with more than 3,000 messages shared among members discussing 84 different topics.
The conference began with the keynote session led by Otis Brawley, MD, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University and former Head of the American Cancer Society. After his presentation on “Disparities in COVID-19 and Health Promotion,” he was joined by Eleanor Walker, MD, and Ana Maria Lopez, MD, MPH, as well as patient advocate Desirée Walker for a lively panel discussion entitled, “Health Disparities in Integrative Oncology.” Through these sessions, it became clear that minority populations in the United States (and indeed, globally) suffer from a much greater burden of cancer incidence, unequal quality of care, and worse health outcomes compared with the White population. Dr. Brawley suggested that the person-centered approach of integrative oncology, which takes into account a person’s life circumstances, culture, values, beliefs, and preferences, is well suited to address some of these unacceptable disparities.
Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE
Integrative Oncology is guest edited by Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, Laurance S. Rockefeller Chair in Integrative Medicine and Chief of Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
The conference continued with a popular symposium on “Natural Health Products for Immune Support Amid COVID-19,” which focused on reviewing the scientific literature on the use of vitamins C and D, zinc, and other integrative treatments that may impact patients with COVID-19. Organized by the SIO Research Committee, this dynamic session, like all other conference sessions, is currently available for viewing by SIO members on our YouTube channel.
Global Programs and Workshops
Diving into our global theme on day 2, we began with an integrative oncology global update meeting, which featured SIO colleagues from Italy, Germany, Australia, China, and Brazil. We were very impressed by the breadth of the programs and research emerging from all over the world, each with its local twist. For example, in Brazil, researchers are examining the potential therapeutic benefits of botanicals from the Amazon rainforest, whereas in China, they are investigating the effects of traditional Chinese medicine alongside Western treatments in cancer care.
The third global workshop, entitled “Culture and Integrative Oncology: Helping People Around the World Live Well with Cancer,” was led by members of the Global Development Task Force: Eran Ben-Arye, MD, of Israel, and Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Integrative Medicine Service. This session took a deeper dive into cultural factors related to appropriate integrative oncology care worldwide.
Concurrent workshops were also conducted on the second day, including one organized by and for patients and patient advocates entitled “What Do I Do Now? Guiding Patients Toward Healthy Lifestyle Choices.” This was a collaborative effort that included Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies (https://bcct.ngo/) and the Anticancer Lifestyle Program (https://anticancerlifestyle.org/). The workshop served an important knowledge translation function by getting research into the hands of those who can use it, in a way that is understandable and actionable.
Focus on COVID-19
As part of our focus on innovative integrative oncology service delivery, a panel symposium and discussion on “Integrative Oncology in COVID-19” summarized the findings of the SIO COVID task force. Members of the task force surveyed practitioners from around the world and came up with 10 soon-to-be-published recommendations for pivoting to virtual integrative oncology care. Past SIO President Lynda Balneaves, RN, PhD, and the task force did an amazing job of breaking down key components of the therapeutic encounter into concrete actions, which can easily be applied in many settings.
“We were very impressed by the breadth of the programs and research emerging from all over the world, each with its local twist.”— Linda E. Carlson, PhD, RPsych, and Channing Paller, MD
Tweet this quote
The most unique and (some would argue) among the most engaging sessions in our program featured Tony Redhouse, a Navajo recording artist and spiritual healer, who used voice and drums to connect us all in unified, embodied hope. He shared the Navajo understanding of the individual as being a whole that encompasses the mind, spirit, and body, using a hoop to show the interconnectedness of these parts. This was the final session of three SIO productions with Mr. Redhouse held to increase awareness of COVID-19 and the cancer-related needs of the Navajo people. Donations directly benefited the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, which is the only designated cancer center on Native American soil. The SIO helped to raise nearly $7,000 to assist in supporting health equity among this indigenous population.
Looking forward to 2021, we hope the situation will be conducive to holding the SIO conference in a hybrid format (mixed in-person and virtual offerings) in Baltimore. The final decision regarding the in-person component will be made by March, based on the number of COVID-19 infections, the status of vaccinations, and travel restrictions. Either way, we look forward to sharing and expanding on our theme of “The Science of Living Well With Cancer” and hope to see you there!
DISCLOSURE: Dr. Carlson and Dr. Paller reported no conflicts of interest.
Dr. Carlson is Professor in the Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; President-Elect of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO); and 2021 SIO Conference Co-Chair. Dr. Paller is Associate Professor in the Department of Oncology and Associate Director of Oncology in the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Vice President of Advancement at the SIO; and 2021 SIO Conference Co-Chair.