Researchers find evidence for complementary therapies

A joint UBC-BC Cancer Agency initiative called the Complementary Medicine Education and Outcomes Research Program (CAMEO) is contributing to a paradigm shift for patients and health professionals alike, according to Assoc. Prof. Lynda Balneaves.

Recent studies reveal that 50 – 80 per cent of Canadians diagnosed with cancer choose to explore complementary therapies. These include acupuncture, nutritional supplements, traditional Chinese medicine and yoga, along with mind-body therapies such as relaxation techniques, guided imagery and meditation.

“We’re providing knowledge translation for a group of patients who haven’t had information or support and we’re developing a research program that anyone can access and use,” says lead investigator Balneaves, who teaches in the UBC School of Nursing.

Launched in 2008, CAMEO provides evidence-based education and decision support for cancer patients and cancer health professionals. Along with one-on-one consultations for a select number of patients, CAMEO also provides group workshops that walk participants through decision-making guidelines and recent findings about complementary medicine.

Fifteen years ago when Balneaves first started studying complementary and alternative medicine, she often heard the terms “quackery” or “unproven therapies” leveled at these practices.

It’s a different story today, she says. For example, a new and emerging field in the U.S. is integrative oncology which acknowledges the medical benefits of complementary medicine. And to Balneaves’ surprise and delight this summer, more than 400 oncologists attended the plenary presentation she gave on CAMEO’s research during a national medical conference held in Vancouver.

“I was amazed at how many people were interested and asking where can you find evidence? Where can I get training?”

To train the trainers, CAMEO is launching an online program for healthcare providers through the Provincial Health Services Authority, which hosts a continuing education hub on its website.

Balneaves says the CAMEO curriculum will equip health professionals to better discuss complementary therapies and available scientific evidence along with patient support and additional resources.

A case in point is the current confusion over antioxidants. Cancer patients often seek to boost their immune systems by taking high doses of supplements such as vitamin E, garlic or green tea, which are all high in antioxidants.

“However, what we’ve seen in research are often negative outcomes,” says Balneaves. “These supplements can make treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy less efficient and may be protecting cancer cells.”

CAMEO was made possible by a $1 million gift in 2007 from the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation. To sustain CAMEO’s trailblazing work, Balneaves says she aims to seed programs across the country through key partnerships, such as the one with Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer Centre to provide complementary medicine support for women with breast cancer experiencing menopausal symptoms.

To learn more about CAMEO’s research programs and recruitment for study participants, please visit: