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Your Essential Guide to Integrative Cancer Care Insights From the OncANP Conference

By Dr. Julie Robinson, ND.


The yearly Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP) conference is designed to further educate integrative cancer care providers, enhancing patient care and professional collaboration. Packed with case studies, innovative research, and resources to inform clinical practice, the conference is an inspiration to attendees and the naturopathic medical profession. This blog aims to simplify some of the key findings, empowering patients with valuable information shared at the conference.

The 2024 OncANP conference took place in Tempe, Arizona. The Centre for Health Innovation’s (CHI) very own Dr. Dugald Seely, ND, M.Sc., Dr. Erica Rizzolo, ND, and Dr. Julie Robinson, ND, were in attendance this year. Dr. Seely and Dr. Rizzolo showcased posters created by The Patterson Institute team to the attendees. Dr. Robinson represented “KNOW,” a research database providing summaries on studies related to integrative cancer care. With a diverse agenda featuring speakers and presentations, topics included herb-drug interactions, the microbiome, immunotherapy, mental well-being during cancer treatment, cancer-induced osteoporosis, and recent research highlights.



Immunotherapy and the Microbiome

If you or someone you know is dealing with cancer, you’re probably familiar with chemotherapy as a common treatment. But there’s another treatment called immunotherapy that’s gaining popularity. Immunotherapy is like giving your immune system extra power to fight cancer by removing the breaks on immune function normally triggered by cancer. Normally, your immune system is good at finding and attacking harmful things in your body, like germs, but sometimes, cancer cells can hide from it. Immunotherapy helps your immune system spot these sneaky cancer cells and gives it a boost to attack them. While this treatment sounds promising, it doesn’t work for everyone.1 Dr. Jacob Schor, ND, presented on relevant research suggesting that having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome might improve how well immunotherapy works.2 So, how can you improve your gut microbiome? It seems that people who eat a Mediterranean diet, with lots of fiber and a variety of plants, tend to respond better to immunotherapy.3 As a patient, you can make it a fun challenge to include as many different plants in your diet as possible each week! You might wonder, “Why not just take a probiotic?” That’s a great question. The truth is, we don’t have enough information to know which specific microbes help. For now, focusing on a healthy and diverse diet is the best bet. Until we learn more, you can use food to support your body’s response to immunotherapy.




Cancer and Osteoporosis

People living with cancer or who have had cancer in the past may go on to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis. Imagine your bones are like a building made of bricks. In osteoporosis, these “bricks” become weak and brittle, like how an aging building gradually loses its strength and stability. This happens because your body either doesn’t make enough bone, loses too much bone, or both. So, your bones become more fragile and more likely to break upon impact. Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because you might not feel any symptoms until you break a bone, which is why it’s important to keep your bones strong and healthy. Certain cancers and cancer treatments can raise someone’s risk of getting osteoporosis.4 As you get older, recovering from a broken bone can take longer which can impair mobility and independence, and may increase pain. Also, certain breaks, like hip fractures, can cause complications that might affect someone’s overall survival.5 At the OncANP conference, there was a great presentation by Dr. John Neustadt, ND, focusing on osteoporosis screening, treatment options, and secondary prevention. While there are treatments available to increase bone density, the main goal is to lower the risk of fractures. Simple things like getting enough sleep to reduce the chance of tripping and falling can lower the risk of fractures.6 Also, having enough protein and calcium in your diet, especially from plant sources, can really help decrease the risk of fractures.7,8,9,10 Doing simple balance exercises, like standing on one foot while brushing your teeth, can also help lower the risk of falls and fractures.




Highlights from Recently Published Research

The conference’s final presentation by Dr. Lise Alschuler, ND, and Dr. Tina Kaczor, ND, summed up important research in integrative cancer care from 2023-2024. There were four key studies that stood out in their presentation.  One found that aromatherapy, especially with peppermint and lemon, might ease nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.11 Aromatherapy uses essential oils to boost physical, emotional, and mental well-being through scent. Another study found that the Mediterranean diet could improve health for colorectal cancer patients.12 A third study found that exercising during breast cancer treatment improved patient wellbeing and might mean fewer treatment delays or medication dose changes.13 Lastly, looking at nature photos during chemotherapy helped with pain, tiredness, mood, and appetite.14


Key Points from the OncANP Conference:

  1. For cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy, having a Mediterranean diet rich in fiber and diverse plants could enhance your response to treatment by diversifying your gut microbiome.
  2. Keep your bones strong and reduce the risk of fractures by prioritizing plenty of sleep, practicing balance exercises, and consuming protein and calcium through a Mediterranean and plant-forward diet.
  3. If you experience chemotherapy-induced nausea, consider trying peppermint aromatherapy for relief.
  4. Colorectal cancer patients may benefit from incorporating a Mediterranean diet to improve quality of life during treatment.
  5. For those going through treatment for breast cancer, exercising during chemotherapy could help improve your body’s tolerance to the treatment.
  6. Watching nature slideshows during chemotherapy sessions has been shown to alleviate pain, boost energy levels, ease sadness and anxiety, and increase appetite.




Author: Dr. Julie Robinson, ND

Dr. Julie Robinson is a naturopathic doctor and in her clinical practice focuses primarily on supporting patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and menopause. She uses the best available research to guide her decision-making and is passionate about contributing to research in naturopathic medicine. She is a research associate at the Knowledge in Integrative Oncology Website (KNOW database) and an active member of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP).





1. Malczewski AB, Ketheesan N, Coward JIG, Navarro S. Enhancing Checkpoint Inhibitor Therapy in Solid Tissue Cancers: The Role of Diet, the Microbiome & Microbiome-Derived Metabolites. Front Immunol. 2021;12:624434. Published 2021 Jul 7. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2021.624434

2. Lee KA, Luong MK, Shaw H, Nathan P, Bataille V, Spector TD. The gut microbiome: what the oncologist ought to know. Br J Cancer. 2021;125(9):1197-1209. doi:10.1038/s41416-021-01467-x

3. Lee KA, Shaw HM, Bataille V, Nathan P, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiome for cancer patients receiving immunotherapy: Dietary and treatment implications. Eur J Cancer. 2020;138:149-155. doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2020.07.026

4. Shapiro CL, Van Poznak C, Lacchetti C, et al. Management of Osteoporosis in Survivors of Adult Cancers With Nonmetastatic Disease: ASCO Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Oncol. 2019;37(31):2916-2946. doi:10.1200/JCO.19.01696

5. Brown JP, Adachi JD, Schemitsch E, et al. Mortality in older adults following a fragility fracture: real-world retrospective matched-cohort study in Ontario. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2021;22(1):105. Published 2021 Jan 23. doi:10.1186/s12891-021-03960-z

6. Qian Y, Xia J, Liu KQ, et al. Observational and genetic evidence highlight the association of human sleep behaviors with the incidence of fracture. Commun Biol. 2021;4(1):1339. Published 2021 Nov 26. doi:10.1038/s42003-021-02861-0

7. Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?. Nutrients. 2016;8(6):359. Published 2016 Jun 8. doi:10.3390/nu8060359

8. Roubenoff R, Hughes VA. Sarcopenia: current concepts. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2000;55(12):M716-M724. doi:10.1093/gerona/55.12.m716

9. Yoo JI, Kim H, Ha YC, Kwon HB, Koo KH. Osteosarcopenia in Patients with Hip Fracture Is Related with High Mortality. J Korean Med Sci. 2018;33(4):e27. Published 2018 Jan 22. doi:10.3346/jkms.2018.33.e27

10. Weaver AA, Tooze JA, Cauley JA, et al. Effect of Dietary Protein Intake on Bone Mineral Density and Fracture Incidence in Older Adults in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2021;76(12):2213-2222. doi:10.1093/gerona/glab068

11. Şancı Y, Yıldız S, Ayçiçek A, Möhür N. Effect of peppermint-lemon aromatherapy on nausea-vomiting and quality of life in pediatric patients with leukemia: A randomized controlled trial. J Pediatr Nurs. 2023;72:e217-e227. doi:10.1016/j.pedn.2023.07.001

12. Bagheri A, Asoudeh F, Rezaei S, Babaei M, Esmaillzadeh A. The Effect of Mediterranean Diet on Body Composition, Inflammatory Factors, and Nutritional Status in Patients with Cachexia Induced by Colorectal Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Integr Cancer Ther. 2023;22:15347354231195322. doi:10.1177/15347354231195322

13. Sanft T, Harrigan M, McGowan C, et al. Randomized Trial of Exercise and Nutrition on Chemotherapy Completion and Pathologic Complete Response in Women With Breast Cancer: The Lifestyle, Exercise, and Nutrition Early After Diagnosis Study. J Clin Oncol. 2023;41(34):5285-5295. doi:10.1200/JCO.23.00871

14. Catissi G, de Oliveira LB, da Silva Victor E, et al. Nature Photographs as Complementary Care in Chemotherapy: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023;20(16):6555. Published 2023 Aug 10. doi:10.3390/ijerph20166555


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