When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, standard-of-care treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are essential tools for survival. But it turns out that integrative services may also play a crucial role. A recent study from the Journal of Oncology found that patients with breast cancer who were treated at hospitals that offered programs like nutrition and exercise counseling, support groups, spiritual services, meditation and psycho-oncology support had an increased 5-year survival rate than those who did not.
The study says that the hospitals were graded upon “efforts to educate, support and provide funding for 12 complementary and lifestyle approaches.” At the low-scoring institutions, the 5-year survival rate was a bit lower than at the other institutions. The more integrated services an institution provided, the higher the 5-year survival rate.
“This is really interesting—and encouraging for all types of cancer,” says Michael Ryan, Psy.D., clinical director of supportive oncology services at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. “We offer many integrative oncology services to help with side effects from cancer treatment, along with support services to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. What is good for your body is good for your mind—and vice versa—and this study is proving that.”
How Integrative Oncology Services Can Support Your Body & Mind
So, how can supportive oncology services can help? Here are a few ways:
- Counseling can help you deal with the mental and physical difficulties of cancer, as the road to recovery can be long and arduous. “You might have the coping tools you need to face life, but you might not have the coping tools you need to face cancer, which is where a professional comes in,” says Amy Williams, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist at Henry Ford Health.
- Exercise can help fight tiredness and lessen side effects of cancer treatment. It increases blood flow to your heart, improves strength, flexibility and endurance; improves cognition, mood, energy and immune system functioning. Even if you’re not feeling that great, you can start small by walking around your house, says Eleanor M. Walker, M.D., radiation oncologist and medical director for the Henry Ford Center for Integrative Medicine.
- Art therapy is a constructive way to channel your frustrations and calm your mind. Sometimes words are limiting, so art therapy is another way to express yourself. “Art therapy is a great way to reduce stress and promote emotional and physical well-being,” says Kelly Darke, ATR, M.Ed., a board-certified art therapist at Henry Ford Health.
- Nutrition counseling can help you get through active cancer treatment and help lay the foundation for healthy eating habits once you’re in recovery. “Side effects from cancer treatment, such as nausea and loss of taste, can make it difficult to eat,” says Hannah Lepkowski, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Cancer. “So we’ll help you get enough calories in a way that helps you feel your best. We also see patients into survivorship and can help you eat in a way that offers the best nutritious diet for you."
- Support groups can help you find strength in numbers, whether you’re getting advice from a survivor, or confiding in someone who is battling the same illness as you. “We host a variety of cancer support groups, and Imerman Angels is a national non-profit organization that connects people with similar cancers,” says Camille Romain, manager of social work at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. “Having people to rely upon is paramount.”
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Michael Ryan, Psy.D., is the clinical director of cancer supportive services at Henry Ford Cancer in Detroit.
Amy Williams, Ph.D., is a clinical health psychologist at Henry Ford Health.
Eleanor Walker, M.D., is a radiation oncologist and medical director at the Henry Ford Center for Integrative Medicine. She sees patients at Henry Ford Cancer in Detroit.
Kelly Darke, ART, M.Ed. BFA, is a board-certified art therapist at Henry Ford Health. She works with patients at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit.
Hannah Lepkowski, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Cancer in Detroit.
Camille Romain, MBA, LMSW, is the manager of social work at Henry Ford Cancer in Detroit.