As a researcher, educator, and planner, I have worked in alternative and complementary (integrative) medicine and the psychosocial aspects of cancer care for more than 25 years. I came to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1999 to create the Integrative Medicine Service, a multifaceted program that offers inpatient therapies at Memorial Hospital and outpatient services at the Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center. The Service's two-pronged research effort includes studies to evaluate the ability of specific complementary therapies to reduce important symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments, and the investigation of botanicals for potential antitumor effects. The Integrative Medicine Service’s Web site, About Herbs, offers evidence-based information about herbs, vitamins, and unproved cancer treatments at no charge to professionals and the public.
When I first became interested in integrative medicine in the early 1980s, I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Director of the U of P Comprehensive Cancer Center Psychosocial Programs, where I developed prototypic clinical and research programs in patient and family support, medical education, home care and hospice, and the complementary therapies that now comprise integrative medicine. Little was known about the effects of complementary or alternative therapies, and through the first national survey of cancer patients’ use of unconventional methods and in later studies examining the clinical effects of these therapies, I documented the popularity and growth of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) methods. I found that cancer patients were using a wide array of therapies on their own, some ineffective and potentially harmful, others very helpful. My research, clinical activities, and policy efforts since that time have aimed to alert patients and oncology professionals to the sometimes useless or harmful therapies promoted incorrectly as viable cancer “treatments,” and to ensure that complementary therapies are studied with appropriate scientific rigor and are available to patients as adjunctive care for the control of physical and emotional symptoms.