Terrain-Based Cancer Care Focuses on Whole Person

By: Melody Spurney

The Riordan Clinic has a rich heritage of groundbreaking innovation in cancer care. Clinic co-founders Dr. Hugh Riordan and Olive W. Garvey founded the clinic on the premise that all complex chronic illness, including cancer, has origins in nutrient deficiencies. Today, the clinic’s integrative oncology team builds on that foundation with a terrain approach to care. This approach targets the root cause of the cancer while simultaneously working to improve quality of life, manage side effects, reduce risk of recurrence, and improve immunity and quality of life.

The integrative oncologists at Riordan Clinic relate cancer to a weed problem and real health, which is why terrain-based testing and a metabolic approach to treating it are used by the clinic’s oncology team.

In a Real Health Podcast entitled “What is the Terrain Based Approach to Cancer” that originally aired in April 2022, Dr. Lucas Tims, ND, FABNO, of the Riordan Clinic’s Overland Park campus, described the terrain-based approach as a garden. Conventional cancer care focuses on killing cancer cells – much like weeds in a garden. The metabolic, terrain-based approach considers the body as soil and uses integrative medicine to look for root causes of cancer, rather than simply attacking the cancer itself.

“The traditional approach from Western medicine is to put chemicals on the weeds … to cut them out, burn them, and then wait and see if they come back. Whereas the metabolic or terrain-based approach looks at all the things you can’t see on the surface level but that we know are actually what’s driving the weed problem in the first place,” he said. 1

Podcast co-host Dr. Ron Hunninghake, MD, and Chief Medical Officer based on the Wichita campus, said recurrence rates can be high if patients rely only on conventional care.

“This is in line with Dr. Riordan’s approach to dealing with complex chronic illnesses of all types. We look for the root causes. The root causes are the things that often are overlooked in developing treatment plans for cancer patients.”

Integrative oncology and metabolic cancer treatments take a whole-body approach. Treatment plans include extensive lab work personalized to the patient, diet, exercise, supplements, and other naturopathic treatments. In fact, a 2018 study from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health found only 12 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy. 2  In addition to cancer, chronic metabolic diseases also include Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, Polysystic Ovarian Syndrome, among others. 3

The Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health (MTIH) is a leader in metabolic terrain-based cancer care. Under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Nasha Winters, ND, FABNO, the institute uses the approach to focus on an individual patient’s “why,” including what caused cancer to grow, specific therapies, improving quality of life, and reducing mortality rates. 4

MTIH also offers certifications for providers who complete an extensive Metabolic Approach to Cancer program (MATC), which includes more than 4 months of training designed to ingrain a methodology and improve clinical outcomes. All four providers on the Riordan Clinic’s integrative oncology team have earned the MATC certificate. In addition to Dr. Lucas and Dr. Ron, the team also includes Dr. Kirsten West, ND, LAc, FABNO, working virtually and with the Wichita clinic, and Laura Vasquez, MSN, APRN, NP-C, working at the Overland Park clinic.

Laura said there are numerous benefits to both care providers and patients working with a terrain-based approach to cancer care. She said that providers learn to recognize patterns in patients that help target effective interventions to strengthen them and heal the whole person rather than simply target the tumor or cancer microenvironment. 

“Close monitoring of specific bio-markers helps us shift treatment plans and make evidence-based decisions,” said Laura. “Incorporating in-depth testing and providing adjunctive therapies that can often be combined with conventional treatments gives our patients the best outcomes to not only slow the progression of cancer cells but remove barriers to their own healing while strengthening the soil or body.”

Based on the philosophy of “Test, Assess, Address, Never Guess,” as defined by the Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health the terrain-based treatment approach has a core of 10 focuses. 3

Genetic, epigenetic, and nutrigenomic modifications

  • Blood sugar balance
  • Toxic burden management
  • Repopulating and balancing the microbiome
  • Immune system maximization
  • Modulating inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Enhancing blood circulation while inhibiting angiogenesis and metastasis
  • Establishing hormone balance
  • Recalibrating stress levels and biorhythms
  • Enhancing mental and emotional well-being

In the April podcast, Dr. Lucas and Dr. Ron further explained the concepts behind the 10 terrains. The discussion focused on toxicity, which is common in patients; angiogenesis, which drives blood flow to a tumor; and inflammation, which is a sign a body is trying to heal itself but is also feeding the cancer. They also discussed harmful bacteria, which weakens the immune system; how stress and trauma can negatively affect circadian rhythms; and the importance of building a patient’s foundation back to encourage healing. 1

The Riordan Clinic’s integrative oncology team has seen patients’ quality of life improve as a result of the terrain-based approach to cancer care. Not only do many of them experience a reduction in side effects that can accompany conventional cancer care such as chemotherapy and radiation, some emerge healthier that they were before diagnosis.

“When the terrain approach is truly fostered, it can cultivate greater health and wellbeing than what was experienced or possible prior to the diagnosis of the disease,” said Dr. West. “By understanding what physiological pathological patterns may be at play, these can be reversed and physiological harmony can be found. It enables clinical outcomes that surpass survival statistics and prognosis.”



  1. https://realhealthpodcast.org/2022/04/what-is-terrain-based-testing/
  2. https://www.unc.edu/posts/2018/11/28/only-12-percent-of-american-adults-are-metabolically-healthy-carolina-study-finds/#:~:text=Health%20and%20Medicine-,Only%2012%20percent%20of%20American%20adults%20are%20metabolically%20healthy%2C%20Carolina,serious%20implications%20for%20public%20health
  3. https://mtih.org/metabolic-approach-to-cancer/
  4. https://mtih.org/