Highlights From the Ninth International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology

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The theme of this year’s International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) was “Honoring Diversity in Cancer Prevention and Control.” The conference was held October 8–10, 2012, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and examined such varied topics as health-care disparities, novel perspectives on cancer prevention and control, and diet and exercise.

The conference included workshops on conducting research in integrative cancer symptomology; evaluation of herbal medicine; and early career development. There were also clinical science abstracts presented on herbs and supplements and attitudes on complementary care among patients with cancer.

Three of the abstracts presented are summarized below. (To access all the clinical and basic science abstracts presented at the SIO International Conference, go to the Society of Integrative Oncology website at

Flaxseed Study

Lilian U. Thompson, PhD, of the University of Toronto, addressed Flaxseed/Lignans and the Risk Reduction and Treatment of Breast Cancer. This presentation summarized data from various animal, epidemiologic, and clinical studies on the use of flaxseed, which is rich in phytoestrogen lignans and may have anticancer effects.

In all studies, flaxseed was shown to provide some benefit. In rat and mouse models with human breast cancer xenografts, flaxseed was found to reduce the development, growth, and metastasis of both estrogen receptor–positive and estrogen receptor–negative breast tumors and improved the effectiveness of tamoxifen. A review of clinical studies of postmenopausal patients with breast cancer also found that flaxseed intake can reduce tumor cell proliferation. Epidemiologic studies showed that high lignan intake or high serum levels of lignans are associated with reduced risk of breast cancer and tumors with more favorable prognostic factors. However, the effect of flaxseed intake on HER2-overexpressing tumors is unclear.

Medication Interactions

Richard T. Lee, MD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, spoke about The Incidence of Potential Medication Interactions Including Herbs and Supplements Among Breast and Prostate Cancer Patients During and After Systemic Anticancer Therapy. This study surveyed 68 patients with breast or prostate cancer about the medications they take, including chemotherapies, prescription and over-the-counter medicines and herbs, and supplements, to identify the prevalence of potential medication interactions and the impact they may have on clinical outcomes.

Micromedex interactive software was used to identify potential interactions. On average, the respondents took 5.8 medicines during chemotherapy treatment and 5.4 medicines afterward. The use of herbs and supplements increased from 37% while on active treatment to 51% after finishing chemotherapy. The study found 104 potential interactions during chemotherapy and 22 after treatment was completed. Overall, 10% of the interactions were considered major, 57% were moderate, and 33% were minor.

The study investigators found that one out of three patients with breast or prostate cancer given chemotherapy were at risk for interactions from over-the-counter medications and herbs and supplements. They urged oncologists to be aware of these interactions and to discuss them with their patients.

Expressive Writing

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, discussed A Randomized Controlled Trial of Expressive Writing for Patients with Renal Cell Carcinoma. Over 200 patients with renal cell carcinoma were randomly assigned to either write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about their cancer (“expressive writing”) or write about neutral topics such as their diet, on four occasions over 10 days. They were followed for 10 months.

At the end of 1 month, the expressive writing group had decreased scores on the Impact of Event Scale (a measure of subjective stress), and after 10 months, the expressive writing group demonstrated decreased levels of intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, cancer-related symptoms, and sleep disturbances. ■

Disclosure: Drs. Thompson, Lee, and Cohen reported no potential conflicts of interest.