By Adam McLeod, ND, BSc —
This year I had the privilege of attending the 4th annual ONCANP (Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians) conference where Naturopathic Oncologists from around the world gather to discuss the latest research and advances in integrative oncology. It is exciting to see how rapidly the field is advancing and the information that was presented can certainly be applied in a clinical setting to anyone battling cancer.
I was interested to learn at the conference that several cancer clinics in the United States have naturopathic doctors working at hospitals in collaboration with medical oncologists. The results from this collaboration are nothing short of incredible. When the data is compared to the national standards it is clear that the patients are living longer with an increased quality of life in this integrative cancer setting.
One stunning example was with Stage 3 Lung Adenocarcinoma patients where the overall survival was 36 months compared to the national average of around 12 months. Study after study showed that patients were responding more effectively to the chemotherapy and that they were having less side effects. I find it extremely frustrating that this integrative model is not universal given the abundance of evidence.
Major change is needed in the medical system to incorporate this integrative model because the bottom line is that it works. The problem at this point in time is that many medical oncologists refuse to work with naturopathic doctors at all. Instead, they tell their patients to avoid all natural supplements because they will interfere with the conventional treatments. This is simply not true and it is very easy to find robust evidence supporting these integrative therapies.
Patients are not stupid. When they are given a serious diagnosis they turn to the Internet in search of answers, even if their oncologist says they are wasting their time. The problem is that patients do not have the medical knowledge to recognize which supplements are appropriate for them and which ones are completely contraindicated. By telling patients to avoid all supplements and avoid all naturopathic doctors, patients are driven to doing their own research and taking supplements without informing their oncologist. The reality is that they need professional guidance from a naturopathic doctor to pick the right supplements, and the naturopathic doctor should then inform the oncologist about the patient’s treatment plan. This creates a better healing environment for the patient and it ensures everyone is on the same page about the treatment plan.
In the past I have had oncologists scare patients about the most benign prescriptions or supplements. Patients have been told that omega-3s would accelerate tumor growth because they are “antioxidants” or that EGCG “protects cancer cells” in a patient not even on chemotherapy. These statements are simply untrue and a quick literature search would reveal dozens of references regarding the safety and effectiveness of these supplements. I have also had a number of patients who were told to discontinue a prescription of Metformin or Celebrex, only when the MD found out that a naturopathic doctor prescribed it. In these cases the patients were responding very well to the chemotherapy and they were taking these medications during this entire time period. The pharmacist who filled the prescription also didn’t have a problem with it and I am sure that had an MD prescribed the exact same thing they would have never recommended that the patient discontinue it.
Patients should not be put in a position where they are being forced to make decisions based on one health care practitioner putting fear into them about another health care practitioner. If the medical oncologist has a problem with a prescription that I write, then they should contact me about it. Just as if I change a prescription from any medical doctor I will always make an effort to inform them of this change. It is not appropriate to put the patient in this position and scare them so significantly about something so minor.
Having said that, I also feel naturopathic doctors need to make more of an effort to reach out to medical doctors. We need to make more of an effort to act collaboratively for the benefit of the patient.
When I say that we need to move to an integrative model I am not suggesting that patients should avoid chemotherapy. What this means is that we use evidence-based treatment plans to work synergistically with conventional medicine. Very few of my patients are not doing chemotherapy or radiation because ultimately patients do best when they are adequately supported through these conventional therapies. What many medical oncologists do not realize is that very often naturopathic oncologists are encouraging patients to do the same plan that they recommended. Often the oncologist scared the patient away from the conventional therapy just based on how they described the treatment. As naturopathic oncologists, we make an effort to educate the patient and give them the support they need through these conventional therapies. When patients feel supported they are more likely to follow through with chemotherapy and they will respond better to treatment.
I have send out many letters to medical oncologists informing them of the treatment plan and many do not even reply to my letter. A handful of oncologists have replied and I have a good relationship with these doctors. Medical oncologists need to stop pretending like naturopathic doctors don’t exist or that we have nothing to offer. For the benefit of the patient every medical oncologist should make an effort to establish a good relationship with a naturopathic doctor that they trust. Whether they like it or not, patients are seeking this integrative care and they should at least be directed to a naturopathic doctor that can collaborate with the medical oncologist. We need to work together for the benefit of the patient.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a naturopathic doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) molecular biology, First Nations healer, motivational speaker, and international best selling author www.dreamhealer.com. He currently practices at his clinic, Yaletown Naturopathic Clinic, in Vancouver, BC where he focuses on integrative oncology. www.yaletownnaturopathic.com