Role of integrative medicine in the continuum of care of breast cancer patients in the Indian context.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in both transitioned and transitioning countries and has become a major women’s health problem. Although recent advances in our understanding of the biological nature of cancer, improved awareness coupled with better early detection facilities, use of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy have significantly improved survival from cancer, there are many gaps in providing individual-centric, holistic care. Integrative medicine refers to the use of traditional medicine alongside conventional preventive or therapeutic interventions (allopathic medicine) as a comprehensive, individual-centered, evidence-based care. The three pillars of complementary medicine (lifestyle modifications, mind-body practices, and use of natural products) have the potential for cancer prevention and improving quality-of-life and even treatment response in cancer patients when combined with conventional oncology care. Therefore, continued research into integrative therapies is required to extend the benefits to a broader patient population and improve outcomes in breast and other common cancers. In the present review article, the possible role of integrative medicine across the breast cancer care continuum has been discussed along with the concept of integrating complementary practices into mainstream health delivery. We have focused on breast cancer as a model cancer that is well amenable to prevention, early detection and stage appropriate treatment. However, our observations are pertinent for other common cancers, for which there are several opportunities for improving the continuum of care, especially in developing countries like India.