Mind-Body Medicine for Cancer Patients with James Gordon

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

WebMD Live Events Transcript

According to James Gordon, MD, mind-body medicine focuses on the interactions between mind and body and the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect health. Can this work for cancer patients?

Event Date: 05/26/2000.

The opinions expressed by Dr. Gordon are his and his alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for information purposes only.

Moderator: Good evening all! Please welcome James S. Gordon, MD.

Dr. Gordon: Thank you for inviting me. I'm happy to be here.

Moderator: Let's begin by defining mind-body medicine.

Dr. Gordon: Well, mind-body medicine is a way of understanding that there is no separation between mind and body, that everything we think and feel and perceive affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally, and that we can use our mind to affect the way our body works, and we can use our body to affect our mind. For example, relaxation techniques, meditation, biofeedback, visual imagery, all are ways of mobilizing the mind to affect itself and to affect physical functioning. Similarly, we can use the body to make positive changes in itself, and also to influence the mind. So for example, physical exercise is very useful for decreasing anxiety and reducing depression. Mind-body medicine is an approach which essentially teaches people how to use their own capacity to affect physical and emotional function.

Morris71_Lycos: Is mind-body therapy alternative therapy?

Dr. Gordon: Well, I think we're coming to the point at which the distinctions between alternative and conventional are less meaningful. Probably 50% of the people in the U.S. make use of therapies that are alternative to or different from the ones their doctors were taught in medical school. The mind-body approach makes use of our most recent scientific understanding to help people to help themselves. Most of the approaches I just talked about are increasingly coming into the mainstream of medical care.

Moderator: Is the NIH (National Institutes of Health) starting to recognize those therapies not considered "conventional?"

Dr. Gordon: The NIH is recognizing those therapies, and increasingly providing funding for research into them. The NIH is funding centers around the country, university medical schools, et cetera, for the most part, that are sponsoring research in mind-body therapies, nutrition, energy medicine, acupuncture, et cetera, so a major part is through medical research places. There are now research committees that are composed of people who are expert in alternative therapies, and therefore, they're more open to considering grants for these, including mind-body.

Moderator: How does one go about choosing a mind-body therapy?

Dr. Gordon: I think in a very real sense, the therapy chooses you. There are certain things that may appeal to you. For example, if you look at my book, Manifesto For A New Medicine, you'll see that I use a number of different kinds of therapies for different people, and that almost always, the therapy that I suggest is one that is particularly appealing to the person for whom I'm suggesting it. So for example, somebody who has been depressed, to whom I may suggest dancing, simply putting on fast music and dancing, will often say, "You know, I was thinking I really love to dance and I don't do much of it anymore." Or somebody with a particular scientific bent may enjoy biofeedback to create a state of relaxation, because they like the instruments, they like seeing the physical change in temperature. So if you're interested, check out Manifesto For A New Medicine, and almost certainly, one of the techniques I describe will be one that feels right for you.

Morris71_Lycos: Do music and art therapies fall into mind-body therapy?

Dr. Gordon: I regard music and art therapies -- they're an intrinsic part of what we do with people who come to the center for help, and they're very much a part of our training program for professionals, as well as the work we do in traumatized people in Kosovo, and people with cancer here in the United States. While I recognize the particular expertise of art and music therapists, our feeling is that we can teach people some very simple ways of using art and music, so that they can better express themselves and understand themselves. If people want to find out more about our therapy and training programs, they should look at our web site, www.cmbm.org. 

Moderator: These theories seem so basic. What has kept them out of conventional treatment?

Dr. Gordon: Conventional treatment is, by definition, things that professionals do to or for other people. Our work is about helping people to help themselves. It's a challenge to the way most professionals are trained. And it's a challenge or a perceived challenge to the professional role that many people have assumed. In medical school, for example, our work is primarily treating, drugs and surgery, or telling people what to do. The mind-body approach involves creating a more educational situation, in which the physician is a teacher at least as much as a treater.

Moderator: Do you know what percentage of physicians are using the mind-body approach?

Dr. Gordon: I don't think anybody knows how many, but I would say it's increasing significantly each year, and increasingly being taught in medical schools. Not in required curriculum, but in electives. We have a professional training program every year. We can admit 120 people. Each year the percentage of positions goes up. Now about a third of the people in the program are physicians. They take this approach that they learn back into the hospitals and clinics and practices all over North America. What they tell us is that many of their colleagues are increasingly receptive. Earlier, a member said this approach seems so simple and obvious, and I would agree. I think because the scientific literature is accumulating, because it makes sense, and because stress is so clearly related to so much illness, doctors are increasingly feeling more comfortable. The next big shift, I think, will come when these approaches become central to all health care, not just something nice to add on but a primary way of dealing with stress.

Moderator: You have quite a big conference coming up. Could you tell us a bit about it and what you expect to come out of it?

Dr. Gordon: We have a conference called Comprehensive Cancer Care 2000, which is the only place that brings people who are doing the best research and clinical work with complementary and alternative therapies for cancer together with the pillars of the American cancer establishment. It's an amazing get together. Alternative and conventional physicians and researchers, acupuncturists and oncologists, patients, nurses, doctors, public advocates -- we expect well over 1000 people this year. And we expect exciting breakthroughs to be presented in the areas of nutritional therapies, homeopathic treatment of cancer, herbal therapies, mind-body approaches, as well as information about groundbreaking programs that integrate conventional and alternative therapies that have never before been presented in a public forum. Some of these are European programs. Others are here in the United States. The Center for Mind-Body Medicine puts on this program in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, and the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine at NIH. If people want to look at our web site, www.cmbm.org, we have a complete program and information about registration. The fee is very reasonable for people with cancer and their families, and also well within the range for professionals. We're also having special panels on how the major cancer centers in the U.S. are beginning to integrate these therapies into their work. We are playing the role of bringing people together, providing the best information about cutting-edge therapies, and helping individual patients and doctors and hospitals to design cancer care programs that are best suited to them. If your members would like, I have just published a book with the best information from the 1998 and 1999 conferences, called Comprehensive Cancer Care. That's by James S. Gordon, MD, which is me, and Sharon Curtin. You can order it from our web site, and it should be in book stores in the next week or so.

Moderator: What is the most awaited topic in this year's conference?

Dr. Gordon: There is a very hot topic which is whether or not -- we pose it as a question -- whether or not people with cancer should use antioxidants like vitamins E and C, and selenium, while they're getting chemotherapy or radiation. Many oncologists say this is dangerous and may interfere with the effectiveness of chemo and radiation. Others who have looked at the scientific literature say just the opposite -- antioxidants will enhance the effectiveness of chemo and radiation. We're having a discussion with proponents on both sides of the issue -- the most knowledgeable proponents, and we're having as our commentator, a very distinguished oncologist who is a former president of the American Cancer Society. We hope after this workshop that clinicians and people with cancer will have a much clearer idea of what the facts really are and what they should so. That's one example of the kinds of topics and the kinds of issues we'll address. We have panels on integrative approaches to breast cancer and prostate cancer. We have discussions of how to integrate nutritional therapies into your care, and how to manage pain without drugs, as well as more specialized panels on research methodology, pediatric oncology. We have sessions, too, for people who want to build support groups and supportive communities for people with cancer and their families. Plus we have senators, congressman, ex-congressman, talking about public policy issues, where we should be putting our research and our service dollars. And wonderfully, the conference is also fun. Many people with cancer come and find a community of other people dealing with similar challenges, of doctors who are willing to answer all their questions, of people who are offering possibilities they have never even dreamed of. It is all happening June 7th through 11th of this year -- in two weeks -- in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river from Washington, DC. Everyone can look at the complete program and also look at transcripts from past conferences, which are available free on our web site, to get a feel for the kinds of sessions we have. Again, that is www.cmbm.org. 

Moderator: What can a cancer patient take out of this conference?

Dr. Gordon: What's happened in previous years is cancer patients have found answers to questions they have. For example, if you have breast cancer or prostate cancer, you can meet and talk with people who have developed programs. You'll hear which supplements make the most sense, which herbal therapies, whether Chinese medicine is helpful, what kind of mind-body approaches are proven to be useful. You get the best information available, and hear that information critiqued by leading cancer specialists. You're likely to find an answer that is as good as or better than you've gotten before. If you go to the mind-body section and want to know what kind of physical exercise you should do, you'll get a straight answer. One of the problems is that when data is presented, if you 're not a scientist, you may not know what the data means. Here, someone may present data on very exciting immune-enhancing therapies, which appear to show real promise for prolonging life of people with cancer. And that data will be discussed by a leading scientist at the National Cancer Institute, which doesn't happen anywhere else. It's very hard to get this data about these approaches at all, and it's up to now been impossible to have that data looked at in an open-minded and yet critical way by leading cancer scientists. So what we've done is found people doing the most exciting work in alternative therapies for cancer, and we've said get your data and results together and come and present it, and we'll have somebody say honestly what he thinks about it. So people coming to the conference get the best information looked at in the most thoughtful way possible. If people look at our web site, the names will be very familiar to people involved in oncology, as well as to people in complementary and alternative medicine. We're bringing together the best people. The wonderful thing is that they all want to participate. We've found that patients who come have gotten the best information to help themselves, and doctors and other health professionals have learned enough so that they can begin to create more integrative practices, to make those combinations of conventional and alternative therapies available to their patients. The conference has also helped to move along the research in the field of complementary and alternative therapies for cancer, and of integrative care. This year at the American Society for Clinical Oncology, one of the most widely publicized presentations was on an herbal combination for prostate cancer called PC-SPES. The scientist who created this combination, Dr. Sophie Chen, had presented her research to our conference in 1998. We feel very strongly that we are presenting long before most people have heard of or used these therapies, the most promising complementary and alternative approaches to cancer

Morris71_Lycos: What is your background in all of this? What interested you in mind-body therapy?

Dr. Gordon: I became interested in how I could feel better in my body and in my mind, and how I could find and pursue my own destiny, a question that certainly could be called spiritual. And so I began first to look for myself at meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, acupuncture. I was looking for ways to expand my mind, to drop pointless ways of thinking, to feel more relaxed, supple in my body, and these mind-body approaches that I learned -- a little here and there -- provided opportunities for change. So this has been a search and a learning of 35 years here in the U.S., India, China, South America, Africa. I've worked with many teachers, and it keeps on going. For those who are interested, I describe a lot of this process of learning and unfolding, and how it came to influence what I did with my patients and what I do with my patients in Manifesto For A New Medicine, because whatever I use with my patients, whatever I teach in our professional training program or our cancer conference, these are all approaches I've used first on myself. I don't suggest anything to anyone else that I haven't done first.

Moderator: Well, our time is about up. Dr. Gordon, do you have any parting comments?

Dr. Gordon: The point about this work, whether it's the work of teaching mind-body therapies to deal with stress, or helping people with cancer, or educating health and mental health professionals about how to help themselves -- all of these approaches and techniques have specific value for health, whether it's herbal therapies for cancer, or mind-body approaches to decrease anxiety and lower blood pressure, or acupuncture to decrease nausea and vomiting for people who are having chemotherapy. But the most important part of medicine and health care is how it serves people in their quest to live the richest, most celebratory lives. In many of the ancient traditions, specific therapies, whether herbal or surgery, we're always ultimately in the service of helping people live in harmony with their own nature and with nature. The work of healing is not just about eliminating disease, and may not be about eliminating disease at all. One of the things we've learned is that illnesses like cancer should probably best be understood as chronic illnesses. The real question is how you can live most fully, regardless of whether or not there is some illness which affects you. So the job of the physician is not just to treat disease, but to help people to live as well as they can, and when the time comes, to die in a way that is harmonious and peaceful. It is wonderful for me to be able to do this work, and to be sharing it with people at Comprehensive Cancer Care, in our training programs, or here tonight on-line.

Moderator: Thank you Dr. Gordon. That was great!

Dr. Gordon: You're very welcome.

The opinions expressed by Dr. Gordon are his and his alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for information purposes only.

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