Integrative Oncology with Lorenzo Cohen

How can men and women affected by breast cancer use complimentary therapies to better manage their cancer experience?

That’s what the inquiring minds of #BCSM wanted to know. We invited Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Integrative Oncology Department, to talk with us about his research and experience. Some additional information about Dr. Cohen can be found here

Here’s our own “Cliff Notes” version of what was an incredibly fast-paced and information-packed chat:

Q1: How did your interest in the mind/body connection and integrative oncology evolve?

Dr. Cohen My training is in medical psychology with an emphasis on stress and the immune system. Examining the negative effects of stress on our biology led me to want to examine how we can relieve stress. Mind-body practices are a wonderful way to decrease stress. We know that stress can shorten our telomeres http://t.co/jvm8RgHAxE and that means that stress can affect every cell in our body.

                  Definition of Teleomeres:  From the National Cancer Institute

Q1a: when you came into the field what was the research on stress indicating?  Where was it leading scientists? 

Dr. Cohen: 20 years ago it was thought that stress simply decreased immune function through increases in stress hormones.  We know now that the effects of stress are quite profound, impacting all biological systems and impacting the tumor microenvironment. Chronic stress causes dysregulation of the immune system, decreasing cell-mediated immunity.  As we age our telomeres shorten, which is part of the normal aging process. But if telomeres get too short we get unstable chromosomes, and unstable chromosomes during cell division can lead to mutations and an increased risk of cancer.

          Dr. Robert Miller : How is stress defined?

Dr. Cohen: There is a big difference between acute and chronic stress. The acute stress response is adaptive and necessary. It is really all about  chronic stress – when demands outweigh our ability to cope with something that is challenging – that’s what can cause harm.

Dr. Cohen:  Most clinical trials have focused on just 1 or 2 lifestyle factors. We need to study all of the factors together to see the true power of lifestyle. Barbara Andersen from OSU found that psychologic intervention could improve survival for breast cancer patients: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016270

         Some additional advice for patients (and all of us!) from Dr. Cohen:

– Take control of your health and decrease your risk of cancer and other diseases by making healthy lifestyle changes

– Great new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on how yoga is effective for sleeping problems: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2013/08/12/JCO.2012.43.7707.abstract Sleep is so important to maintaing good health. It is really critical to get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night for healthy functioning.

– Ideal to focus on lifestyle – eat a mainly a plant-based diet, exercise at least 30 min even day, and manage stress

– Exercise is a great way to manage stress and can improve survival in breast cancer survivors http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=200955

– Meditation has actually been shown to change the way the brain functions as well as the anatomy of the brain http://t.co/ew78Wg0NWw 

– In our review of acupuncture, it was found to be useful for pain and nausea from chemo and safe http://t.co/JNS8Bpp761

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Additional Resources:

National Cancer Institute on CAM:  http://t.co/kKvOXgZJD2

MD Anderson CAM Website

From Gonzalo Bacigalupe:  And health disparities are an enormous source of chronic stress – the negative kind of stress. Good resource from the American Psychological Association  http://t.co/84ssdU0kKn

From Angela Alexander : More reading about the biology of stress & cancer: 2010 review in the Journal of Clinical Oncology  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20644093 

Dr. Cohen hosts a monthly radio show: Living the Anticancer Life on KPFT – 4th Monday of every month, 9:30am CT

From Dr. Deanna Attai: thanks to Dr. Cohen for some amazing information and a different perspective. Important to realize healing is not all about surgery and drugs.

Final comment from Dr. Michael Fisch: A gem filled #bcsm from dozens of authentic, benevolent rock stars!

For the full chat transcript on Integrative Oncology:  http://t.co/UVlbIz1NGN via @symplur

Please leave additional questions and comments below!

Thanks so much




Date: 27 Aug, 2013

Thank you for the crib notes! I'm find the tweet chats quite challening, so it's nice to see this sort of capture of the conversation. Thanks Jody and the #BCSM team!


Date: 27 Aug, 2013

Our pleasure! I like having the references, too, so pulling it together is something I enjoy. Plus when I'm looking through the transcript I see all the side conversations I missed! It's difficult to see everything during a chat. Thanks so much for reading. ~jms