Integrative Medicine: Our Research

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is an international leader in integrative oncology care, research, and education. Since its establishment in 1999, the Integrative Medicine Service has engaged in scientific research to evaluate complementary (integrative) therapies for cancer. The goal of our research is to determine which therapies are most effective as well as which specific therapies are most useful in treating particular symptoms.

Because the Integrative Medicine Service conducts research and provides services for people with cancer, we have expertise in integrating effective non-pharmacologic therapies into mainstream cancer patient care. The therapies we investigate and use can help to manage a variety of physical and emotional symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment.

Our Publications Visit PubMed for our journal articles go »

We know that a therapy works only when it has been scientifically tested and found to be effective and safe. Such research is essential. Anecdotal reports may provide research ideas, but they are not proof of efficacy. Patients and the public have a right to know whether therapies of all kinds fulfill purported claims.

The burgeoning interest in complementary therapies has been accompanied by increasing research support from the National Institutes of Health and other sources. This support has made it possible to conduct well-conceived, high-quality studies, equivalent to that of any other scientific research. The quality of our integrative medicine research is consistent with research produced by other departments at Memorial Sloan Kettering. 

The Integrative Medicine Service conducts both clinical and basic-science laboratory research. All research is conducted in collaboration with senior clinical and laboratory scientists in many departments of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, including investigators at the Sloan Kettering Institute.

Current Clinical Studies

Our clinical research investigates the ability of therapies to relieve symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments, and to improve patients’ well-being. All of our clinical trials are open to clinically eligible patients from Memorial Sloan Kettering and from any other hospital or medical practice.

Below is information about clinical trials that are now open to new participants and those that will open soon.

Lymphedema

We recently published results of our pilot study on the safety of acupuncture for breast cancer–related lymphedema. This study showed not only that acupuncture is safe, but also that it reduced swelling in patients’ arms. Because of these exciting results, we are about to begin a large, randomized clinical trial with the Memorial Sloan Kettering breast cancer team. 

If you have had lymphedema of the arm for at least six months but less than five years and are interested in this study, please contact one of our research assistants for more information at 646-888-0809 or 646-888-0810.

Medicinal Mushroom Extract

We have investigated Maitake medicinal mushroom extract for many years.  It appears to enhance immune function, but whether it makes a clinical difference remains unknown. With Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Hematology Service, we are working to determine whether this extract enhances hematopoiesis in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome

Please contact one of our research assistants for more information at 646-888-0809 or 646-888-0810.

Fitness

At the Integrative Medicine Service, exercise and fitness are essential areas of clinical, educational, and research efforts. Exercise is known to improve survival in patients with various cancer diagnoses. We will soon begin a major effort to study ways to help breast cancer patients stay with physical activity. At the same time, we will conduct a related basic-science study of the biological mechanisms by which exercise produces survival benefits. 

This study will open soon. If you are interested in participating, please contact one of our research assistants for more information at 646-888-0809 or 646-888-0810.

Yoga Breath Training

In collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Pulmonary Service, we are initiating a special study to determine whether yoga breath training improves patients’ lung capacity and mobility.

This study will open soon. If you are interested in participating, please contact one of our research assistants for more information at 646-888-0809 or 646-888-0810.

Vitamin D

We are conducting a retrospective study to examine the relationship between vitamin D levels in stored blood and existing data on length of survival in patients with breast cancer and colorectal cancer. We are conducting this study in collaboration with physicians at Memorial Sloan Kettering who specialize in these diseases.

Completed Integrative Medicine Research

The Integrative Medicine Service conducts clinical studies to determine the effectiveness of complementary therapies in cancer care. 

Acupuncture

We have studied the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, xerostomia, hot flashes, nausea, neuropathy, and pain. We have also published studies on acupuncture for postsurgical pain and dysfunction, saliva production in head and neck cancer patients, hot flashes, post-chemotherapy fatigue, and more. 

Massage therapy

Our published research shows that massage therapy relieves pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and depression.

Music therapy

We published results of a randomized trial that showed significant reductions in stress and depression in patients who received music therapy while awaiting bone marrow transplantation.

Research on Botanicals and Other Dietary Supplements

The Integrative Medicine Service conducts research to evaluate the effectiveness of herbs and other botanicals, vitamins, and other dietary supplements. Recent studies investigated the following agents:

Sho-saiko-to (xiao-chai-hu-tang)

With Memorial Sloan Kettering’s hepatobiliary disease management team, we studied an herbal compound used in China to treat chronic hepatitis C. Results were disappointing.

Astragalus

An Astragalus-based herbal formula for non-small cell lung cancer patients appeared promising. With Memorial Sloan Kettering’s lung cancer team, we conducted a clinical trial to determine its value. However, we found that it did not extend life.