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Olivia Newton-John’s Cancer Diagnosis: Inspiring Whole-Health Cancer Treatment

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Oliva Newton-John, most widely known for her role in the film, Grease, recently spoke out about her cancer journey, from her first breast cancer diagnosis in 1992 to her recent announcement that it had returned in 2013 and again in 2017.

Remaining positive and hopeful about her life, Newton-John expressed that she is doing well and exploring more “natural” treatments, including modifying her diet and lifestyle. Newton-John is not the only one who may benefit from treatments that nurture the body, mind and spirit. In fact, this is a philosophy that Florida Hospital embraces in its whole-person care, and throughout your health journey, too.

For Newton-John, her journey has been a sequence of sickness and health time and again. And at varying degrees, this might be like your journey as well. But through it all, we are here. In sickness, we want to support your complete healing. In health, we want to keep you thriving. That’s what whole-person care means to us, and our cancer care is no exception.

Amber Orman, MD, a board-certified radiation oncologist at the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute who specializes in integrative therapies for breast cancer, shares how complementary therapies — like Newton-John’s — can help women throughout the phases of cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship. 

Advocating for Whole-Health Cancer Care

“What I advocate for and practice is an integrated approach to breast cancer treatment that combines evidence-based complementary therapies with conventional therapies to help patients maximize their treatment results and health in the long term,” explains Dr. Orman.

She adds, “Over half of breast cancer patients are exploring complementary therapies, but many are not discussing them with their conventional medical doctor because they don’t feel that they will be supported.”

But Dr. Orman, who has uniquely dedicated her career to integrative breast cancer treatment, advises that evidence-based data supports combining three tiers of complementary therapies with more traditional medicine.

“I see impactful positive changes in patients as they go through radiation treatment and into survivorship by focusing on patient-tailored nutrition, exercise and mindfulness-based interventions. I find that many patients can be healthier than they ever were — even before their breast cancer diagnosis — when they make and keep these lifestyle changes,” Dr. Orman states.

How Whole-Person Cancer Care May Help You

When it comes to preventing, overcoming and thriving throughout breast cancer survivorship, nutrition, exercise and mindful-based practices can reduce risks and boost outcomes.

“The complementary practices I recommend are evidence-based, meaning that they are associated with breast cancer prevention both primarily and secondarily,” says Dr. Orman.

She explains that women who qualify as medically obese and are postmenopausal have and 20 to 40 percent increased risk for breast cancer compared to postmenopausal women of a healthy weight. In other words, achieving a healthy weight can provide protective factors against breast cancer.

Focus on Cancer-Fighting Foods

When it comes to nutrition, Dr. Orman recommends a plant-based lifestyle for every woman. “Whether it’s a woman trying to prevent breast cancer, with breast cancer, or in breast cancer survivorship, I generally counsel women in a similar way because data shows that a plant-based lifestyle is correlated with decreased breast cancer incidence and recurrence,” states Orman.

This means limiting processed meats and foods, red meat, and decreasing animal products in your diet.

But it’s not just about eliminating foods — it’s important to add some cancer-fighting foods, too.

Dr. Orman explains, “I also recommend fermented foods and probiotics to help modify the gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome can lower inflammation and support your immune system to work more effectively in both preventing and fighting cancer.”

Some fermented foods that she recommends include raw sauerkraut and kimchi. Kiefer is also a good source of probiotics. “If patients are not eating fermented foods, I recommend boosting probiotic intake by selecting a product that has a high CFU (colony-forming unit) count and high diversity of microbes,” she adds.

Get Moving 150 Minutes Per Week

“Exercise is important for every woman at every stage of life and health. We know that exercise is associated with a decrease in breast cancer recurrence rates, breast cancer related deaths, and all cause-related mortality (deaths related to anything) for that matter,” notes Dr. Orman.

She goes on to describe that during breast cancer treatment and into survivorship, exercise is proven to help reduce fatigue and anxiety, as well as improve quality of life and cognitive function.

For this reason, Dr. Orman echoes the American Cancer Society recommendation to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, including strength training.

Lift the Spirit with Mindful-Based Practices

“We have data showing that stress-related psychosocial factors can decrease survival among women with breast cancer,” states Orman.

While Dr. Orman does recommend a formal mindful-based stress reduction program for many of her patients, there are simple practices that every woman can do to help reduce stress, anxiety and improve outlook for better health.

“Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture are some of the more common complementary therapies I recommend during conventional treatments to help patients reduce fatigue, anxiety, pain, and to help ease side effects such as neuropathy and nausea,” she explains.

Commentary Therapies Compliment Your Best Life

“Every patient that I see receives a personalized evaluation, and we talk about what is specifically going on in her life — what she is eating, what her stress is like, how she is sleeping, how she rates her quality of life, what supplements she is taking or interested in — this is all important in my treatment planning,” explains Dr. Orman. 

Patients see Dr. Orman weekly throughout radiation treatment, which can be up to six weeks, allowing her to get to know each patient, encourage them and adjust their integrative therapies as needed.

Dr. Orman adds, “I see each patient on their initial visit, weekly during radiation, and then every three to six months after that. We have a long-term relationship and continue lifestyle coaching throughout it all, modifying as needed.”

And Dr. Orman’s patients benefit from her own abidance to the coaching that she gives. She adds, “I practice this lifestyle as well, so I can support patients from personal experience.”

For Dr. Orman, her passion meets her practice as she helps so many patients in her own unique way.

“I’ve been interested in nutrition since college, and have since continued to seek expert knowledge on how nutrition and lifestyle modifications can benefit my breast cancer patients. I’m uniquely one of the only radiation oncologists specializing in breast cancer while also specializing in integrative oncology. I’m excited to be a part of a medical community that is embracing these evidence-based lifestyle interventions for the benefit of our patients and our community,” Dr. Orman concludes.

Learn more about Dr. Orman and the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute.