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There are a number of alternative therapies available for mesothelioma, although most have not been proven to be effective cancer treatments. Because mesothelioma is difficult to treat with traditional and modern medicines, patients often seek altermative therapies as a way to relieve symptoms of the disease and its treatments.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that attacks the mesothelium, or the layer of tissue that lines the internal organs. The most common type of this cancer affects the pleura, or the lining of the lungs. Asbestos exposure is the most common cause of pleural mesothelioma. There are no alternative therapies that treat cancer specifically, However, there are some strategies that may relieve its symptoms. Some of these approaches, including supplements, herbs, acupuncture, and yoga, may have anti-cancer properties.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are any treatments of therapies that fall outside the scope of traditional medicine. Many CAM treatments can be used in conjunction with traditional medicine. CAM offers treatments that often differ greatly from those used in traditional medicine. Combining traditional and alternative therapies is known as integrative medicine.
Many CAM strategies have no adverse side effects and can help mesothelioma patients feel better. However, some have negative and potentially dangerous side effects. Patients should always be wary of any CAM treatment that claims to cure mesothelioma or other cancers. Always talk to you doctor before trying any CAM treatments or therapies.
Supplements and Herbs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbs and dietary supplements. While many have not been rigorously tested for efficacy or safety, natural herbs have been used to treat ailments for centuries. Some may have anti-cancer properties, while others may relieve symptoms of cancer and side effects of chemotherapy. Many herbs and dietary supplements are harmless, but others may cause dangerous side effects. Never use an herb or supplement without first talking to your health care team.
Research has proven cannabis to be effective for symptom relief in cancer patients. Cannabis has been shown to relieve nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, all common side effects of chemotherapy. This plant substance also relieves anxiety, which often cripples many cancer patients.
Herbal supplements, including mistletoe and cat’s claw, may boost the immune system and kill cancer cells while relieving side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Certain cultures have used mind-body therapies for thousands of years. Mind-body therapies include yoga, meditation, tai chi, and other practices. These therapies attempt to unify the body and mind, increase relaxation and mindfulness, and relieve stress and anxiety. Studies show that yoga, meditation, and similar strategies do have a positive effect on cancer patients. They will not cure cancer, but they do improve quality of life through better sleep, less pain, and reduced stress and fatigue.
Body-based therapies include some treatments that date back thousands of years, although several of these therapies include more modern techniques. One popular body therapy is acupuncture, a therapy long practiced in traditional Chinese medicine. With acupuncture, small needles are inserted into the skin to realign lines of energy in the body, also called meridians. Acupressure is similar, but uses the pressure of touch instead of needles. When administered by a professional, these strategies can relieve pain, vomiting, fatigue, and other side effects of mesothelioma treatments.
A more modern body-based therapy that may benefit cancer patients is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). TENS therapy uses low levels of electrical current to help manage pain. It is typically administered with massage therapy by a professional and licensed chiropractor.
Coping with the emotional effects of mesothelioma and its treatments is important for cancer patients to improve quality of life. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can cause feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, and fear. Emotional therapies can help patients come to grips with these feelings and learn coping strategies that make life easier.
Counseling or psychotherapy can help calm the overwhelming emotions caused by living with cancer. Patients also benefit from alternative art and music therapy. Therapy animals can also bring a great sense of calm and relief to patients. Animal therapy may even improve overall physical health.
Homeopathy developed in Germany two centuries ago. This alternative treatment approach treats illnesses with dilute concentrations of toxins. Homeopathy practitioners believe giving someone a toxin that produces similar effects to the illness will heal them. They also believe that lower concentrations, minute amounts, will heal the body.
While many homeopathic substances are toxic, they are administered in such low concentrations that they are generally considered harmless. There is no research evidence that homeopathy helps treat any condition, let alone cancer or the symptoms of cancer treatments.
Energy therapies use energy like sound or touch to heal the body and mind. Sound therapy uses noise to induce relaxation. Practitioners may use a Tibetan singing bowl or other instrument to produce certain sound vibrations. Other energy therapies include reiki, a type of massage purported to balance and rejuvenate the body’s energy through touch. Jin Shin Jyutsu, another touch therapy, supposedly harnesses energy to provide healing.
A holistic approach to medicine focuses on the whole body and mind, not just a single disease. For example, instead of focusing on the mesothelioma, a holistic practitioner would include nutrition, supplements, and other CAM therapies to heal the entire person.
A naturopathic practitioner typically prescribes natural and CAM therapies to compliment traditional treatments.
An osteopathic practitioner of holistic medicine may do the same, but emphasizes whole body connections through the musculoskeletal system.
Good nutrition is not simply another CAM treatment, though some CAM practitioners believe nutrition plays a major role in healing. Most doctors practicing traditional medicine already encourage patients to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Research confirms that cancer patients who eat well are generally healthier and experience fewer cancer recurrences.
No fad diet has the power to cure cancer. However, a healthy diet is incredibly important. Cancer and its treatments change the way the body metabolizes food, which can interfere with nutrition. Treatments for mesothelioma may also cause loss of appetite. leading to poor nutrition. Sticking to a healthy, nutrient dense diet will help you feel better and cope with treatment side effects.
Exercise is also not a cancer cure. However, healthy amounts of exercise can help cancer patients feel better and enjoy life. A healthy diet and regular exercise improve mobility, boosts energy, stimulates appetite, improves mood, and reduces stress. Exercise improves physical health despite mesothelioma and its harsh treatments.
With any complimentary or alternative medicine, communicating with your medical team is crucial. Talk to your doctor before trying any new treatment. CAM strategies are mostly safe, but some can have unintended consequences. Supplements may interact with cancer drugs, an exercise routine may be too rigorous for your body, and other complications are possible. Don’t be afraid to try any complimentary treatment strategy that your medical team has confirmed safe for your circumstances.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.