Integrative Medicine Blog

What Is Integrative Oncology?

The Stram Center Sunday, July 12, 2015
Integrative oncology

Integrative Oncology focuses on nutritional, herbal, and mind-body therapies that can complement standard cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation in order to strengthen the immune system, minimize side effects, and improve quality of life, encouraging the best overall outcome.

The Stram Center welcomes Dr. Heidi S. Puc to its healing team in October 2015! Dr. Puc is board certified in adult medical oncology and hematology, and has been part of a group private practice in Syracuse, NY since she completed her Hematology/Oncology Fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center 20 years ago. Her personal experience with Reiki, meditation, and other energetic healing modalities, and her recognition of the limitations of conventional treatments in patients with cancer sparked Dr. Puc’s desire to learn more about integrative and holistic therapies.

What are holistic therapies and how do they complement traditional cancer treatments?

  • These are nutritional, herbal, and mind-body therapies that can complement standard cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation in order to strengthen the immune system, minimize side effects, and improve quality of life, encouraging the best overall outcome.

Dr Puc realized the critical difference that nutritional modifications, physical activity, and mind-body therapies could make in well-being and health. She comments, “It is incredible how little training doctors receive in medical school on nutrition and how the quality of nutrition affects one’s resistance or susceptibility to disease. There is also little or no emphasis on how powerful the mind can be in influencing physical health outcomes.” She adds, “It has always amazed me at how much the placebo effect is viewed as a ‘nuisance’ in the scientific literature by doctors, since it has made it more difficult to determine true response rate to drugs…shouldn’t we be excited about the placebo, a non-drug that can cause profound healing through the mind-body connection, at virtually no cost?”

She pursued training in Integrative Medicine through the Scripps Clinic in California and became a Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM). She began offering Integrative Oncology consultations to patients within her practice, incorporating the use of nutritional supplements, herbs, physical activity, and mind-body approaches alongside conventional chemotherapy and radiation therapy, including the use of high dose IV vitamin C in eligible patients with advanced cancer. To broaden her integrative knowledge base even further, she applied for and was accepted into the two-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Arizona, developed and taught by Dr. Andrew Weil, and she is scheduled to successfully complete this Fellowship in February 2016.

Although she has seen the benefits of pharmaceuticals such as chemotherapy and supportive medications during her many years of practice, Dr. Puc notes that virtually all can have side effects, sometimes quite serious. Herbs and other natural remedies can support the effectiveness of such pharmaceuticals and also reduce side effects and improve patients’ quality of life. She explains, “I was the pioneer in bringing herbs and other nutraceuticals into our everyday oncology practice to be used as gentler options to medications to ameliorate side effects. These were well received by patients, often very effective and with no or few side effects, and they many times enabled patients to avoid needing dose reductions of chemotherapy, thereby maximizing their effectiveness. And patients could avoid taking yet more medications which could have additional side effects.”

With the continued growth in demand for integrative oncology consultations, and with her growing passion to devote all of her time to integrative care, Dr. Puc will join the Stram Center team in integrative medicine. There, beginning in October 2015, she will serve as the “bridge” between conventional oncology care and a more natural approach, providing consultations for patients receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation by their primary conventional oncologists, as well as assisting survivors of cancer with a holistic approach. She will also provide health-promoting consultations with patients who have not had cancer but are interested in improving their health and decreasing their risk for future cancer and other chronic illnesses.

In addition, she will be trained in the conventional and holistic treatment of Lyme Disease to complement the excellence of the Stram Center team in providing compassionate care of those affected by this epidemic and often debilitating disease.

It remains Dr. Puc’s hope that one day there will be no separate categories of “conventional” versus “holistic care”, and that the standard of care with which all else is compared to will be integrative care. She explains that “This will require a shift away from a disease-management type of healthcare system to a whole-person care approach, one which was envisioned so many years ago by Hippocrates, when he concluded, ‘It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has’. I am excited to be part of that shift.”