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NCI Sets Sail on a New Tack In the Stormy Seas of CAM

NCI Sets Sail on a New Tack In the Stormy Seas of CAM

WASHINGTON--The National Cancer Institute is getting more comfortable with the idea of seriously evaluating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches to treating cancer.

NCI director Richard D. Klausner, MD, told a congressional committee that the Institute plans to (1) undertake a series of studies to evaluate CAM cancer treatments; (2) formally designate an NCI coordinator of CAM therapies; (3) strengthen its relationship with the NIH’s Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), including the formation of a joint cancer advisory panel (CAP-CAM); and (4) provide the public with an unprecedented flow of accurate information on complementary and alternative medicine.

"Let me emphasize at the start that the basic tenet of the NIH is to employ rigorous methodologies to reach conclusions based on evidence and not on belief," he said at a hearing of the House Government and Reform Oversight Committee. "Standards of evidence cannot be compromised, and I am pleased that, on this crucial point, I and many colleagues in the complementary and alternative medicine community agree."

He gave two reasons for NCI’s expanding relationship with CAM advocates: The need to be open to new ideas and new approaches and the fact that "many people take complementary and alternative medicines, and they reasonably ask who is providing evidence as to whether they help, do nothing, or are harmful."

Dr. Klausner noted that NCI supports many "high-quality" CAM-related research efforts in cancer. These include studies of diet interventions in cancer treatment and the potential therapeutic value of vitamins and minerals in cancer therapy and prevention; trials of stress and pain management to enhance patients’ quality of life; and investigations of the effect of natural inhibitors of carcinogenesis. Such research will be expanded to even more controversial areas, he said.

NCI to Appoint CAM Coordinator

The appointment of a coordinator for CAM therapies, a new position at NCI, is in its final stages, the director said. The new coordinator will be a member of the cancer research community and will develop relations with the CAM community and serve as a liaison between the two groups "to encourage collaboration and joint research initiatives."

NCI and OAM are currently developing a list of potential members for CAP-CAM, the advisory panel on complementary and alternative medicine in cancer. The 13-member panel will consist of a broad range of experts from conventional and CAM cancer research.

"This group will review and evaluate summaries of evidence for CAM cancer claims submitted by practitioners, make recommendations to OAM and NCI on whether and how these evaluations should be followed up, and be available to observe and provide advice about those studies supported by OAM and NCI, and about communication of the results of those studies," Dr. Klausner said.

NCI is also revamping the way it presents information on CAM to the public. "Several months ago, as a result of our own concerns and the constructive input from the CAM community, we removed from the NCI website all previous CAM information and are creating new information that treats CAM dispassionately and fairly," Dr. Klausner said.

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