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Integrative Medicine as a Whole Patient Approach

Barrie Cassileth, PhD

Guest: Barrie Cassileth, PhD, chief of the integrative medicine service and the Laurence S. Rockefeller Chair in Integrative Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

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What is integrative medicine? And how mainstream is it? This “whole person” approach to medicine is gaining importance, particularly in the area of oncology care. Integrative medicine is part of overall medical practices that are used to treat patients, and extends into treatment during survivorship. Integrative medicine seeks to treat the whole patient, not just the disease. In this episode, we speak with Barrie Cassileth, PhD, a nationally recognized leader in the field, about the practice and perception of integrative medicine.

Dr. Cassileth has worked in the field of integrative medicine for over 25 years and has published more than 158 medical papers and 60 books and textbook chapters. She served as the founding president of the International Society for Integrative Oncology, and as the founding editor-in-chief of its journal, the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

Integrative medicine is a growing field that carries some misconceptions. Terms like “alternative” and “complementary,” which are commonly used when talking about integrative medicine, come with a large amount of baggage, according to Dr. Cassileth.

“The term ‘alternative,’ particularly in the cancer setting, is simply inappropriate and it’s no longer used. There are no viable ‘quote’ alternatives to mainstream cancer care,” said Dr. Cassileth. Rather, she says integrative medicine is “an effort to bring legitimate, evidence-based therapy into mainstream medicine and to mainstream medical care so that the symptoms, physical and emotional, are dealt with.”

Although there are many benefits of the integrative approach, Dr. Cassileth warns against taking over-the-counter herbal supplements before an operation or cancer patients being treated by someone who is not properly trained to help patients with their conditions. Programs such as music therapy, meditation, and acupuncture are among the many forms integrative medicine can take.