Integrative Oncology Program

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, many families ask about options in addition to traditional medicine for managing symptoms, coping with treatment side effects, and improving their child’s quality of life. “Integrative health” is a term to describe therapies and practices that combine conventional and complementary approaches to address the medical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness. Acupuncture, massage and yoga are examples of integrative health.

At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), we understand the value of providing a holistic approach to care. We are committed through research, education and clinical care to providing the highest standard of evidence-based integrative therapies, in combination with conventional cancer care, to patients and their families throughout the cancer journey.

What we provide access to

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that involves being aware of the present and staying focused on one thing at a time, such as concentrating on an experience, a thought or an emotion. It can be helpful for coping with stress and promoting relaxation. A person might focus on deep breathing, check the body for tension, increase awareness of the five senses or visualize a real or imagined situation, such as a stroll along a beach. This can also help with physical discomfort, nausea and pain.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a practice in which very fine needles are inserted into specific points on the body, known as acupuncture points. Stimulating these points helps activate the body’s natural healing ability, reduce pain, and promote physical and emotional well-being. Research shows that acupuncture is safe in children and can reduce pain and ease post-chemotherapy and post-operative nausea and vomiting.

Yoga

The word “yoga” means “union” or “to unite,” and the practice of yoga connects breath to movements. Yoga supports health and well-being (physical, emotional, mental and social) through postures and poses, breathing exercises, relaxation and meditation. Yoga can help stretch or build certain muscle groups, relieve stress, and create a greater sense of awareness. The practice can also help the brain make more serotonin, a chemical that makes a person feel calmer and more upbeat. Studies have shown that yoga is safe, useful and appropriate for many conditions and ages with proper instruction, guidance and support.

Integrative nutrition

Eating the right foods can have incredible health benefits. Our nutrition program considers food as a medicine and uses it to improve health. Certain foods may help reduce amounts of medicine needed or ease side effects. For example, adding fiber to a child’s diet can help manage constipation, and eating specific foods can help relieve nausea.

Massage therapy

Pediatric massage therapy promotes healing and relaxation by gently working with muscles and connective tissues using adaptations for infants, children and adolescents. The massage may focus on certain body areas or the entire body, based on the needs of each child. Studies have shown many possible benefits: It helps increase circulation and relax muscle tissue and nerves, which can help reduce pain, stress, tension, nausea, anxiety and more. The practice can also help the brain make more serotonin, a chemical that makes a person feel calmer and more upbeat.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from the flowers, roots, leaves, seeds, bark or peel of certain plants to help boost a person’s mood or make them feel better. Used thoughtfully, aromatherapy can help children as well as adults feel calmer and sleep better. It is also shown to reduce nausea, discomfort and pain.

Physical activity and exercise

Physical activity and exercise are safe and helpful for children with cancer. Being active can help reduce fatigue, as well as increase strength, endurance and quality of life. We encourage children with cancer to be active for 30 to 60 minutes every day, with limitations determined by their care team. Children who are having difficulty with physical activity or want to find ways to improve endurance can work with a physical or occupational therapist.

What integrative health can and cannot do

There is no evidence that integrative therapies can cure cancer or cause remission. A child still needs conventional medical treatment for cancer. Certain integrative therapies not included here can interfere with cancer treatment and may have risks. Talk with your healthcare providers before starting any integrative therapy on your own.

For more information

To schedule a personalized consultation about integrating a holistic approach into your treatment and recovery, and to learn more about integrative oncology, call 267-426-0762 or email oncointake@email.chop.edu. For more information about how to access these therapies and practices, consult your care team or visit the Integrative Health website.