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Beyond treatment: How integrative medicine can help your cancer journey


Amy Lynch for GBMC

August 20, 2019
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you want to fight the disease with everything you’ve got. However, the disease itself and the treatments you receive may leave you feeling tired, anxious, depressed and nauseous.

Beyond conventional courses of radiation and chemotherapy that fight cancer in the physical body, integrative medicine incorporates complementary tools and support to care for the patient’s mental, emotional and spiritual needs as well.

A holistic approach to cancer treatment

A Greater Baltimore Medical Center affiliate, Gilchrist provides integrative medicine as a resource for patients who are undergoing treatment at GBMC’s Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute. Gilchrist also offers elder medical care, counseling and support services, hospice, and palliative care.

“The integrative approach to care is appropriate for all people, regardless of their health condition,” assures Delia Chiaramonte, MD, Gilchrist’s director of integrative medicine. “Even patients who clearly need an aggressive medical approach can benefit from mind-body techniques for anxiety management and pain management.”

How integrative medicine works

Integrative medicine is a medical specialty that may include any number of services, programs and approaches to support the patient’s overall wellness — from exercise, nutrition and herbal supplements to acupuncture, guided meditation, Reiki energy therapy and massage. All of these offerings are intended to work hand-in-hand with conventional medicine as part of the patient’s comprehensive treatment plan to help manage any unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment and increase a sense of well-being.

“There are many studies on specific integrative approaches for certain conditions,” Dr. Chiaramonte explains. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction has been shown to decrease pain, anxiety and depression while also improving sleep and quality of life. Acupuncture may improve pain, nausea/vomiting, depression and other symptoms. Tai chi helps decrease falls among the elderly.”

Creating an individualized plan

Tailoring the most appropriate integrative medicine support for each patient begins with a consultation to assess symptoms. The patient works directly with an integrative palliative care physician to create a personalized plan in coordination with oncologists and any other providers involved in the patient’s care. The overall effort may loop in on-site and off-site GBMC practitioners while also offering suggestions that patients can follow on their own at home.

“Recognizing that the patients can learn tools to improve their own coping skills has been particularly helpful”

Formerly the Associate Director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine, Dr. Chiaramonte joined Gilchrist and GBMC in 2018 specifically to launch the Berman Cancer Institute’s new integrative medicine program. She says the patient response so far has been extremely positive.

“Many patients have told us that their anxiety, sleep, depression, pain and stress levels are markedly improved,” she says.

The future of integrative medicine

To expand its integrative medicine offerings, GBMC is currently in the process of creating a credentialing pathway for acupuncturists who will soon be able to provide on-site services at GBMC.

“I’d also like to increase the availability of massage and add qigong, yoga therapy and possibly more manual medicine options,” Dr. Chiaramonte adds. “And, I hope to hire a mind-body specialist who can provide one-on-one counseling for meditation, guided imagery, breathing techniques and aromatherapy.”
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