Inaugural white paper validates critical role of integrative oncology in standard cancer care

10 November 2022

Today marks the official launch of the ‘Integrative Oncology and Wellness Centres in Cancer Care’ white paper, (opens in a new window) by Hon. Ged Kearney MP, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care at Parliament House, Canberra. This inaugural white paper validates the services of Integrative Oncology and Wellness Centres and provides a framework of recommendations to truly realise their potential.

The white paper was informed by an environmental scan commissioned by the National Integrative Oncology and Wellbeing Group and conducted by Deakin University supported by Dry July Foundation.

It has been developed by the national wellness alliance, representing membership from Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Solaris Cancer Care Foundation, Bloomhill Cancer Centre, and NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University.

Associate Professor Judith Lacey, Head of Supportive Care, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Adjunct at NICM Health Research Institute says, “The reality in cancer care is that people affected by cancer and their families are not only looking for ways to live longer, but to live better with cancer. Around 1 in 2 people affected by cancer use complementary therapies to help them cope with the side effects of treatment and improve their long-term outcome, but use is ad-hoc. With this comes safety risks and financial toxicity so it is time now to discuss how these services fit with standard cancer care. These therapies need to be provided by the right practitioners and the right time to improve cancer outcomes, quality of life and to keep people thriving in their community and society.”

Dry July Foundation, who funded this white paper, has been funding wellness services for cancer patients for more than 10 years. Dry July Foundation, CEO Katie Evans comments, "Dry July Foundation has believed in the value and seen evidence of the benefit of wellness services such as exercise and art and music therapy for several years at hospitals and wellness centres across Australia. Our aim is to improve the comfort, care and wellbeing of people affected by cancer. We are proud to have provided funding for this white paper to help start a national conversation about the importance of Integrative Oncology and wellness in cancer care."

The authors of the paper comment, “With cancer care in Australia changing at a fundamental level, it is time to start a national conversation on the important role of evidence-based Integrative Oncology services, how they fit with standard cancer care and how they can become accessible to all Australians. This inaugural white paper validates the services and provides the strategic recommendations to guide this conversation and to enable the sector to consider a consistent and coordinated approach. Only by doing so will we be able to deliver the benefits of Integrative Oncology and Wellness Centres to more Australians affected by cancer.”

The burden of cancer is staggering.

  • In 2021 there were at least 1.1 million people in Australia who were affected by or have been affected by cancer. By 2040, there will be 1.9 million. This has major implications for the health system and economy.
  • A large proportion (40%) of those cases are in people of working age (25-64 years old).
  • And new targeted treatment options and advanced interventions have led to more complex care needs in a growing cohort of people living longer with cancer.

Geraldine McDonald, Director Prevention and Wellbeing, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre adds, “The growth of the establishment Wellness Centres across Australia provides an opportunity to focus on the social determinants of health and the issues that people with cancer face when managing their cancer experience. Wellness Centres provide a platform for the delivery of Integrative Oncology and wellbeing services however Integrative Oncology services can be offered in the absence of a Wellness Centre. The establishment of an Integrative Oncology framework would enable Wellness Centres to achieve best practice evidence based Integrative Oncology and wellbeing services across Australia ensuring equity of access for all Australians.”

The white paper outlines the following six strategic recommendations:

  1. Develop guidelines for Integrative Oncology in Australia
  2. Identify and gain consensus on the critical success factors
  3. Prioritise routine collection of data
  4. Establish funding strategy
  5. Establish referral pathway
  6. Foster and progress a collaborative research program

Services such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga, music therapy, exercise, and nutrition are among recommendations for alleviating common symptoms, such as fatigue, pain, nausea, hot flashes, and sleep disorders.

Integrative Oncology and Wellness Centres are aligned with Australia’s national cancer principles and policies. They rely heavily on philanthropic support to enable equitable access to this care.

Dr Suzanne Grant, Senior Research Fellow, Integrative Oncology at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University adds “On average, a person on a cancer treatment trajectory, can expect to accumulate an average of eight symptoms.  Some of these may be mild, others severe. Scientific evidence about the mechanisms of action, pharmacology, and holistic outcomes of complementary therapies continue to build. These therapies assist with compliance and tolerability of life-saving cancer treatments, alleviate symptoms, enhance quality of life, and may decrease overall healthcare costs. The White Paper is a call to work together across Universities, key cancer centres, with consumer bodies and community leaders, across Australia to inform policy and accelerate progress.”

The white paper makes a valuable contribution to the critical consultation process ahead to making these services accessible, respecting the personal preferences, values, and culture of all Australians.

Together we can and must deliver the benefits of Integrative Oncology and Wellness Centres to more Australians affected by cancer in an accessible, sustainable and equitable way.