The EU’s ambitious plans to beat cancer could be complemented by taking account of how complementary therapies may improve quality of life when used alongside medical treatment, panellists argued at a EURACTIV event on ‘Integrative oncology’.
Around 40% of cancer patients across the EU currently use complementary therapies alongside their medical treatment, and surveys suggest that patients demand more availability.
Some 3.5 million people in the EU are diagnosed with cancer every year. The European Commission’s recently published Beating Cancer Plan highlights the need to improve the lives of cancer patients during their treatment.
Speaking at the EURACTIV event, panellists argued that such complementary therapies do not conflict with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other conventional cancer treatments and could help limit the adverse effects from conventional treatment, thus improving quality of life.
“Integrative medicine embraces conventional medicine, adding to it, some specific other very important disciplines of health such as nutrition, physical activity, body and mind therapies, herbal medicines, and traditional healers such as homoeopathy, or acupuncture,” said Anne-Laure Leclere, head of scientific and medical affairs at Boiron, which manufactures homoeopathic remedies.
While there is no scientific evidence that complementary therapies such as homoeopathy can prevent or treat cancer, according to Erik Buelens, president of the patient association Pro Homoeopathic, a marriage of conventional and complementary therapies brings patients “the best of both worlds”.
“We speak about the complementary treatment which is allied to the oncologist and the anti-cancer treatment and not the alternative”, explained Elio Rossi, director of complementary medicine and diet in oncology at the Campo di Marte Provincial Hospital of Lucca, Italy.
However, continued scepticism among doctors about the value of such therapies has encouraged many patients to proceed with complementary treatments without telling their doctor.
“We find that quite a few patients use complementary therapies without the knowledge of their oncologist simply to avoid pressure”, said Buelens, who expressed “regret that some medical institutions still recommend that patients avoid complementary therapies during cancer treatment”.
“This may be justified when such a therapy may chemically interfere with conventional treatment, but there is no such chemical interaction with acupuncture, osteopathy, hypnotherapy, yoga, relics, or relaxation,” said Buelens.
Sirpa Pietikäinen, a centre-right MEP on the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee, argued that the EU cancer plan should take complementary and integrative medicine into account as part of a patient-centred programme as it is the patient’s right to choose the treatment they prefer.
More research, funded by the EU and the member states, is needed, and should be part of the EU4Health programme, argues Pietikäinen, who also co-chairs the Parliament’s Interest Group on Integrative Medicine and Health.
A draft report by the European Parliament has called for sustainable and adequate funding for European Research on Cancer, including an increase of 20% for public and private research on therapeutic and diagnostic cancer innovations.
Rossi said Europe has difficulty getting complementary medicine onto publicly funded national health systems.
Boiron’s Leclere contrasted the situation in Europe with that in the US, where complementary medicine is far more widely used.
“I think in the United States, at some point, the government decided to have a look at complementary therapies. They found the evidence, and this is why now integrative oncology is fully inserted in academies in anything related to health in the United States. I think in Europe, we’re still a step behind,” she said.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]