ASCO Endorses Integrative Therapies to Treat Breast Cancer

ASCO Endorses Integrative Therapies to Treat Breast Cancer

By Sean Lechowicz at 18 Jul 2018, 10:01 AM

To deal with the physical and emotional struggles of living with cancer, many patients turn to integrative therapies, such as yoga, meditation, music therapy and acupuncture, in addition to standard treatments. In fact, 2017 statistics from American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) indicate that approximately 30% to 50% of patients have tried integrative therapies as part of their treatment.

Although these statistics present a growing curiosity amongst patients, integrative therapies have been quite divisive between oncology experts. Despite the debate over the use of these methods, ASCO has just given an official endorsement for the use of integrative therapies to help treat breast cancer.

Last month, ASCO’s expert panel gave their approval after reviewing a guideline of integrative therapies published by the Society of Integrative Oncology (SIO). The SIO guideline demonstrates the use of integrative therapies for the management of symptoms and adverse effects, such as anxiety and stress, mood disorders, quality of life and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

ASCO makes it very clear that while they endorse integrative therapies in addition to traditional treatments, these methods should not replace standard care. When considering an integrative therapy, ASCO’s panel will assign a letter grade to measure its benefits to patients.


Level of Benefits from Type of Therapy


Very High Certainty


High Certainty


Selectively Offered


Strongly Discouraged


Strongly Discouraged/May Be Harmful


Insufficient Evidence Either Way

For the treatment of depression, anxiety and mood disturbance, meditation, music therapy and yoga were all recommended, while meditation and yoga were also recommended to improve quality of life. In treating fatigue, hypnosis, ginseng, acupuncture and yoga could be selectively offered to patients. Treatments like acupuncture and music therapy have shown promise in managing pain and can be selectively offered.

To best assess the effectiveness of these types of therapies, clinical trials, such as those funded by Gateway for Cancer Research are critical.

Epidemiologist and former SIO president Dr. Heather Greenlee stresses the importance of clinical trials.

“We’re reporting on therapies that have clear biological mechanisms, where we have clinical trials showing whether they are effective or not, and whether they are safe,” she said. “We need to conduct more trials and we need to publish more guidelines. We need to get the information out there for patients and clinicians to use.”

Gateway is focused on funding all types of clinical trials, including trials focused on studying the effects of integrative therapies on patients. One such Gateway funded clinical trial led by Dr. Kay Garcia from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center evaluates the use of acupuncture to reduce chronic pain after breast cancer treatment.

ASCO’s endorsement of integrative therapies in treating breast cancer is a big step for the use of these methods as a companion to standard treatment.  Gateway will continue to fund trials using these treatments in its battle against cancer, so that one day a cancer diagnosis is no longer feared.

To learn more about Dr. Garcia’s clinical trial here:



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