Integrative Care Provides Significant Benefit to People with Metastatic Breast Cancer

To support the wellbeing and outcomes of people living with metastatic breast cancer, it’s crucial to include quality of life services and care in all treatment discussions. But what exactly is integrative care?

According to the National Institutes of Health, non-mainstream approaches to healthcare, when used in combination with conventional medicine, are termed “complementary care.” Generally these approaches are not typically part of conventional medical care, or have origins outside of Western practice – think acupuncture, yoga, the use of herbs and probiotics and more.

“Integrative care” goes a step further by intentionally bringing together conventional and complementary approaches, coordinating care among different providers and institutions with the goal of caring for the whole person.

There is growing evidence that integrative care is more than a “nice to have.” By reducing stress and managing side effects to optimize drug utilization, integrative care can play a significant role in improving patient outcomes. That’s why, as a coalition dedicated to transforming and improving the lives of people with MBC, we advocate for the adoption of integrative care from the outset of diagnosis – and making these services more widely available to all cancer patients.

Measuring the impact of integrative care

A 2022 research study, conducted in partnership with Cancer Support Community, showcased the significant positive effects of integrative care on the quality of life for MBC patients by evaluating the impact of integrative therapies provided by Unite for HER (UFH). As a national organization, this nonprofit member of the Alliance delivers integrative therapies and support services to over 1,700 people diagnosed with MBC.

The study, from which results were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, explored participants’ experiences with a UFH wellness program that includes such services as whole food nutrition services, medical acupuncture, oncology massage therapy, counseling, reiki, meditation, yoga and fitness classes. Experience the thrill of online baccarat like never before, only at เล่นบาคาร่าออนไลน์ที่

Analyzing responses from 139 program participants, it was concluded that integrative oncology care programs played a significant role in supporting MBC patients’ needs in managing the psychosocial and physical side effects of the disease.

Integrative care has played a significant role in helping respondents better cope with a life-changing diagnosis. 97% of respondents agreed the program made a positive impact on their quality of life, while 93% reported a reduced level of stress. Overall, 95% of respondents reported improved emotional wellbeing, and 86% reported the program helped them adopt and maintain healthier habits.

And, even more importantly, the UFH wellness program supported patients in adhering to treatment plans that could ultimately lead to better outcomes. 80% of respondents reported significant improvements in side effects and 28% were able to eliminate or reduce at least one medication prescribed to manage side effects. A full 94% of respondents shared that they were able to adhere to treatments better because of the wellness program.

A subsequent study, again conducted by Unite for HER and Cancer Support Community and presented at SABCS in 2023, added to the body of evidence by measuring the impact of professional nutrition counseling and support on 232 women living with breast cancer. Those who received such counseling reported higher quality of life and better mental health than those who did not. Counseling led to lower anxiety, depression, and pain, as well as better physical function.

Other organizations are also contributing to the data that is building on the impact of integrative care services. A research poster presented by Living Beyond Breast Cancer at SABCS 2023 assessed the effect of a structured exercise program on people living with metastatic breast cancer. Through a randomized controlled trial, 357 respondents who participated in a structured and personalized exercise program experienced better physical fitness, higher quality of life, less fatigue, less pain, and greater ability to participate in social or work activities compared to the group that received only general exercise advice.

And, a Cleveland Clinic study presented at the same conference through Cancer Nursing Today assessed the impact of art and music therapy to reduce distress and improve quality of life. Following 76 early-stage breast cancer patients over three months, those who attended bimonthly sessions with a licensed therapist showed significant improvements in physical and functional well-being – findings that may also signal a potential benefit for those living with metastatic breast cancer.

How can we make integrative care more accessible?

These overwhelmingly positive findings make an appealing case for adopting integrative care as a standard in oncology. So why is this model still a relative rarity?

Tellingly, 79% of study respondents in Unite for HER’s 2022 study expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for the integrative care they received – and a number said that without such nonprofit programming, financial barriers would prevent them from accessing supportive therapies and services such as acupuncture, yoga and more.

The study partners are hopeful that this research will send a clear message to more organizations on the importance of integrative care in oncology.

“We are excited to see the important role integrative therapies play in improving patients’ quality of life,” said Elif Andac-Jones, Ph.D., Senior Director of Market Research at Cancer Support Community. “We believe the ability to measure impact with the data collected directly from a support service provider can be instrumental in designing programs that meet actual cancer patient needs and expanding access for all.”

They also hope that more people in the MBC community will learn about the benefits of integrative care to support treatment and quality of life, and take advantage of programs that may be available to them through their local health care providers or nonprofits such as UFH.

“We hear from our patients every day about how the Wellness Program is improving their lives and helping them to adhere to their cancer treatments,” said Sue Weldon, founder and CEO of Unite for HER. “This study provides important data that we hope will encourage others to adopt integrative care into their lifestyle to reap its benefits. We see the difference firsthand and believe every person deserves whole patient care.”

This research also provides a guiding light for leaders in the MBC community to collaborate with health professionals, patients, and nonprofits to re-examine standards of care and implement integrative care programs that support treatment and overall well-being.

“This groundbreaking research is an exciting opportunity to open dialogue about patient-centered care,” said Alliance Chair Beth Burnett. “We are committed to encouraging our partners to explore integrative care programs and to advocate for greater availability, ease, and access for the MBC community.”

To explore integrative care programs offered through Alliance members, click here.