pet therapy at UC Irvine Medical Center
The integrative oncology program will evaluate such alternative approaches as pet therapy. At UC Irvine Medical Center, dogs are provided by Therapeutic Animal Intervention for Lifting Spirits. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

Chemotherapy, radiation, drugs and surgery aren’t the only weapons used to fight cancer. Herbs, special diets and acupuncture have been added to the arsenal

Increasingly, cancer patients are supplementing traditional treatments with alternative therapies. Unconventional approaches to prevention have also gained in popularity. But do they work? That’s what the integrative oncology program at UC Irvine’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center is trying to determine.

Dr. Randall Holcombe instituted the program to gauge the effectiveness of dietary and lifestyle therapies in cancer prevention and care. He believes there is an overwhelming need for such work.

“Eighty percent of cancer patients use some form of complementary or alternative medicine, and only half of them tell their doctors about it,” Holcombe says. “We recognize that alternative therapies can be effective, and we hope to establish a standard of care for those that work.”

An oncologist who has led a number of encouraging studies on how a compound in red grapes might prevent colon cancer, Holcombe will partner with physicians and researchers in the cancer center, Beckman Laser Institute, Center for Health Policy Research and the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine to study herbal supplements, nutrition, meditation, pet/animal-assisted therapy, healing touch, acupuncture, music and art therapy and exercise.

In addition, researchers are using laser imaging in an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of supplements in preventing post-chemotherapy thinking and memory problems. Another study will further explore the “mind-body” connection in surviving cancer with a higher quality of life.

Holcombe hopes the program will expand to eventually include an integrative oncology clinic and an endowed professorship and fellowship positions in the field.

“We want to make it acceptable to use complementary and alternative medicine for cancer prevention and treatment and not have these options hidden away and discredited by mainstream oncology,” he says. “Further work here and elsewhere can go a long way toward improving outcomes and quality of life for people who face cancer.”

To learn more about UCI’s integrative oncology program, call 714-456-6762. To make an appointment for acupuncture or other services at the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, call 949-757-0443. Appointments with physicians at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center can be made at 714-456-8000.