Integrative medicine approach to treating cancer patients

By Louisa Davies, Senior Clinical Oncology Pharmacist at University College of London Hospital

I love my job! I’ve been a qualified clinical pharmacist for 12 years and am very fortunate to work at the wonderful Macmillan Cancer Centre at University College Hospital in London as a specialist oncology pharmacist. I find it immensely rewarding as every day is an opportunity to support someone along their cancer journey.

I have a personal interest in wellness and the growing use of supplements for health and over the past few years I have seen more and more patients adopting an integrative approach to their cancer care. At UCLH we recorded that around 35% of patients we saw in clinic were taking or wanted to start taking supplements to improve their side effects or boost their immunity whilst on anti cancer therapy.

Over the last few years I have seen patients use all sorts of things from vitamin C infusions and shark cartilage to oxygen tents and acupuncture, often at huge personal expense, in order to take some control of their disease and try to improve their outcome. Historically, western medicine has been unable to fully endorse the use of many areas of integrative medicine due to lack of high quality evidence. Well, this is a rapidly evolving area and I am determined our NHS patients will be provided with the evidence based advice they need.

So I have come to New York to learn all about what they are doing in this field at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre (MSKCC) in Manhattans Upper East Side. I hope to learn how the research that is being done at MSKCC can be applied to our own practice back in the UK. My main focus will be to learn from the services provided that safeguard patients from exploitation and potentially harmful interventions. Thankfully I have been awarded a grant from the lovely people at the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust who are supporting my research and making all this possible.

Dr Gary Deng, an Oncologist and specialist in herbs and botanicals is one of the worlds leading experts in this area and along with his team of doctors, nurses, pharmacist and therapists at MSKCC is providing the valuable evidence base that is so desperately needed. Over the next few months I’ll be working alongside Dr Deng and really look forward to updating you on my findings on how we can further help patients in the UK with, or surviving, cancer.

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