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While natural cancer treatments are gathering momentum, integrative medicine also continues to gain ground as patients seek options outside of full-dose chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

The demand for complementary and alternative therapies is increasing in the United States. The American Hospital Association (AHA) reported in 2011 that 42 percent of responding hospitals offer one or more Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies, up from 37 percent in 2007, and 26 percent in 2005. The results showed that the hospitals most likely to offer CAM were urban and tended to be either medium-size (50-299 beds) or large (500+ beds) institutions.

Dr. Jonathan Stegall is among the health care professionals at the forefront of the integrative cancer treatment movement. Dr. Stegall, who specializes in integrated oncology, heads The Center for Advanced Medicine in Atlanta. His credentials are impeccable: Clemson, Georgetown, Harvard, the Medical University of South Carolina, and Yale.

However, cancer left its mark on him at an early age. When Dr. Stegall was 5, his grandmother developed stomach cancer. He saw firsthand how chemotherapy and radiation take a toll on a loved one’s body.

“When I got into my medical training, I always knew cancer was a very aggressive, potentially nasty disease,” he said. “I noticed I could connect with [patients] on a spiritual level, a social level and really support them in those ways.

“But when it came to medical treatments, I felt like we really didn’t have enough tools at our disposal. … I started to develop a more integrative approach — took the best of what I’d been trained and the best of the nutritional and natural side.”

Nourishing the soul Dr. Stegall understands that diet plays a key role in natural cancer treatment and prevention. During the consultation with a prospective client, he stresses the importance of nutrition, which is vital to the integrative treatment process. He also knows there is an emotional side.

“Anytime a patient hears those three words — ‘You have cancer’ — a flood of emotions come over them: fear, sadness, maybe anger,” Dr. Stegall noted. “We know that over time, those emotions, when they are sustained, they do change the body’s physiology and biochemistry.