By Ellen Conte ND and Julie Ennis PhD

The Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) annual conference was held in Miami, Florida in early November. The conference brings together a multidisciplinary group of oncology practitioners including researchers, oncologists, surgeons, naturopathic doctors, dieticians, nurses and patient advocates to discuss current research, and advances in integrative
cancer care.

What research did the OICC present?

The OICC presented five posters, and one oral abstract to the SIO members – all of which were received with excitement. Two of the posters and the oral presentation related to the upcoming Thoracic Peri-Operative Integrative Surgical Evaluation (Thoracic POISE) trial the OICC is conducting in partnership with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. Thoracic POISE aims to improve outcomes for patients with thoracic cancer by including integrative approaches to their care. Our presentations related to the development of the trial which was unique in the systematic and multidisciplinary method used. The OICC also presented information related to curcumin in cancer, and vitamin D in prostate cancer.

What’s new in integrative oncology?

As always, nutrition was a heavily discussed topic.  Two great presentations were related to nutritional programs for women with breast cancer. The first was by Dr. Michael Wargovich, PhD, who tested an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean style diet intervention with a group of breast cancer survivors. The hypothesis was that through educational workshops and recipes, women would be able to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods in their diet and this would result in lowered levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, and weight loss. The nutrition program included many of the foods we recommend at the OICC, including fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, legumes, brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, green tea, and spices such as turmeric, ginger and cloves. The results showed that blood markers inflammation and weight decreased, making anti-inflammatory foods an excellent recommendation for women with breast cancer and survivors.

Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

The second presentation was by Dr. Suzanna Zick, ND, MPH, who discussed the results of a nutritional intervention to target fatigue in breast cancer survivors.  The nutritional program was quite similar, with a focus on fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods, and anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish. Fatigue levels decreased in the group of women who received this nutritional intervention, compared to a control group.

It is great to see that the research is reflecting what the OICC teaches in our Nutrition in the Kitchen sessions, Anticancer Lifestyle Program and Head Start program, as well as how our Naturopathic Doctors advise patients on an individual level.

Dr. Michael Irwin, MD presented on his research involving sleep disturbance, fatigue, depression and inflammation in cancer survivors.  It is known that sleep disturbance, fatigue and depression are often seen together. Dr. Irwin discussed his team’s hypothesis that inflammation may be the underlying mechanism tying together these three related symptoms. His team has looked at the impact of tai chi and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on inflammation and sleep disturbance in cancer survivors, and found that these approaches were able to reduce inflammation and improve sleep. A great take-home from his presentation was “just do something!”  Whether you prefer tai chi, yoga, cognitive-behavioural therapy, meditation or hypno-visualization- they are all means to a similar end.  The OICC offers a variety of mind-body and mental-emotional therapies including yoga, CBT and hypno-visualization therapy.  Just do something!

Photo by Burst from Pexels

A talk by Dr. David Victorson, PhD described novel research methods that have been developed which will make community-based research at centres like the OICC more feasible and able to measure important clinical outcomes. A number of the interventions and programs at integrative oncology centres are hypothesized to impact stress hormones, inflammation, immune function and metabolic outcomes. Measuring these outcomes in clinical research studies generally requires collection of blood samples and specialized equipment for proper processing and storage before it can be sent for analysis. Dr. Victorson described how fingerprick blood samples can be collected on a paper card and processed and stored with minimal resources. This type of work opens the door to more powerful research from community-based integrative oncology clinics like the OICC! He also shared work that has been done on the PROMIS (Patient-Reported Outcome Measurement Information System) to transform the way that patient reported outcomes are collected in research studies in order to maximize the quality of information while minimizing the burden the study participants. The OICC research team is excited to incorporate these novel research methods into our research program.

It was a great three days of learning, sharing and networking. The field of integrative oncology is growing in the number of practitioners, centres offering integrative therapies, and research, and the OICC is excited to be on the cutting edge of this movement. We are already looking forward to next year’s conference in Chicago, IL!