Integrative Medicine in Head and Neck Cancer

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Complementary and alternative medicine, or integrative medicine, has become increasingly popular among patients with head and neck cancer. Despite its increasing prevalence, many patients feel uncomfortable discussing such therapies with their physicians, and many physicians are unaware and underequipped to evaluate or discuss their use with patients. The aim of this article is to use recent data to outline the decision making inherent to integrative medicine utilization among patients with head and neck cancer, to discuss the ethical implications inherent to balancing integrative and conventional approaches to treatment, and to highlight available resources to enhance head and neck cancer providers’ understanding of integrative medicine.

Data Sources

Randomized controlled trials involving integrative medicine or complementary and alternative medicine treatment for cancer patients.

Review Methods

Trials were drawn from a systematic PubMed database search categorized into cancer prevention, treatment, and symptom management.


Integrative medicine is gaining popularity for the management of cancer and is most commonly used for symptom management. A number of randomized controlled trials provide data to support integrative therapies, yet physicians who treat head and neck cancer may be faced with ethical dilemmas and practical barriers surrounding incorporation of integrative medicine.

Implications for Practice

In the management of head and neck cancer, there is an increasing demand for awareness of, dialogue about, and research evaluating integrative medicine therapies. It is important for otolaryngologists to become aware of integrative therapy options, their risks and benefits, and resources for further information to effectively counsel their patients.

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