What I Do For Breast Cancer Patients
By Dr. Amaliya Santiago, ND
Hello. My name is Dr. Amaliya Santiago and I’ve worked at Synergy Natural Medicine Clinic since early 2016, after finishing my Naturopathic Medicine degree at Bastyr University in Seattle. Many women ask me what I do for patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll try to answer that question here as best I can. If you have further questions, you can call me or set up a free 15 minute phone consultation to discuss your specific diagnosis.
First, a bit about me. I’m a California licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND) raised in Los Angeles and I’m passionate about treating patients with cancer. Oncology is one of the few areas where NDs can become board-certified, and I am currently working towards my board certification in Naturopathic Oncology. Although I work with patients with all types of cancers, I am focusing much of my practice towards breast cancer.
My decision to specialize in integrative oncology became clear after recognizing the lack of comprehensive, integrative support for women with breast cancer. While it is essential for breast cancer patients to follow the recommendations of their oncologist, more holistic treatments are equally important to integrate into a patient’s treatment plan in order to improve survival rates and reduce serious side effects.
Why is integrative oncology important in your care? Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center (BIORC) has been conducting ongoing research, measuring outcomes of integrative care and the results are clear - combining naturopathic and conventional treatments results in better survival rates and improved quality of life than just conventional treatments alone.
How does this all work? First, It’s important for cancer patients to know that radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be an integral part of their breast cancer treatment, but it’s not the cure for cancer. Although, chemotherapy and radiation do a great job in shrinking tumors and weakening cancer, they also destroy the body’s immune system and lessen it's innate ability to fight cancers and other illnesses.
When I meet with patients dealing with cancer, we discuss many different aspects of their total health. I review each patient’s medical records and personal history so we can work on improving the body’s immune function, reducing pain and inflammation, and address the many side effects from chemotherapy and radiation. My goal is to help the body to return to a healthy state so it’s optimally able to fight and win against cancer. I utilize a wide array of naturopathic therapies including dietary and lifestyle modifications, herbal and nutraceutical formulations, mistletoe injections, high dose vitamin C IVs, many other types of advanced IV formulations and pain management techniques. I am also certified in pain management with specialized training by Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD.
About 70% of breast cancers are either estrogen or progesterone sensitive, so it's important to address hormones imbalances in most patients to prevent hormones from fueling the growth of a breast cancer. For my patients with hormone sensitive cancers, we evaluate their hormone levels and I use nutraceuticals and other therapies to balance estrogen which can be used concurrently with conventional hormone therapy. There are also therapies for HER2- positive or triple negative cancers that can be used concurrently with conventional therapy.
A breast cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and exhausting experience. It affects a patient’s emotional/mental state and causes a lot of stress for the whole family. But did you know that survival statistics and the quality of life are lower for patients who have stress, anxiety, depression or don’t get good sleep? I’ll evaluate these aspects of your life, treat what I can, and refer you to my network of holistic and mental health practitioners for what I cannot provide.
But why don’t all cancer patients choose integrative care? First, oncologists don’t typically recommend integrative oncology to their patients because they are not very familiar with it. Few oncologists are familiar with Naturopathic Doctors, and are not trained in diet, dietary supplements, supplement-drug interactions, herbal therapy or the many holistic approaches we utilize. I suspect that will change over time.
Cost can also be a challenge too, because integrative oncology is typically not covered by insurance. Many patients only use the treatment plan provided by their oncologist and covered by insurance. For most patients, the additional cost of integrative oncology may only add 5%-15% to the total cost of their cancer treatment, but because it’s “out-of-pocket”, it can be harder for many patients to engage, despite the tremendous benefits. As medicine and insurance companies start to catch up with the times, I hope that will change too.
My ultimate goal is to make every breast cancer patient a breast cancer survivor and I work closely and tirelessly with my breast cancer patients to make this a reality. I hope this was helpful. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to the possibility of helping you or a loved one.
Dr. Amaliya Santiago ND
Oncology Association of Naturopathic Doctors (ONCANP) Member