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Patients often seek alternative mesothelioma treatments to relieve symptoms of the disease and to ease the side effects of chemotherapy. Many patients turn to herbal medicine, acupuncture, medicinal marijuana, massage therapy, and other alternatives. These do not treat cancer but can provide relief and improve quality of life.
What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and alternative medicine is popular with cancer patients. Studies show that more than half of cancer patients use complementary medicine along with their doctor-recommended, traditional cancer treatments.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes any treatments or therapies that fall outside the scope of traditional medicine.
Many CAM treatments can be used in conjunction with traditional medicine but are also sometimes used instead of conventional treatments. 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 treatments have no adverse side effects and can help mesothelioma patients feel better, but 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 your 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 treated ailments for centuries.
Some herbs 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 affects many cancer patients.
Herbal supplements, including mistletoe and cat’s claw, may boost the immune system and kill cancer cells while relieving chemotherapy and radiation side effects.
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.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is 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 their quality of life. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can cause feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, and fear. Emotional support 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 another 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 mesothelioma, a holistic practitioner would include nutrition, supplements, and other CAM therapies to heal the entire person. Two main types of practitioners prescribe holistic treatments:
- A naturopathic practitioner typically prescribes natural and CAM therapies to complement 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.
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.
An exercise plan tailored to the patient can be very helpful. Physical activity can alleviate fatigue, improve digestion, and boost overall mood. A healthy diet and regular exercise improves mobility, boosts energy, stimulates appetite, improves mood, and reduces stress. Exercise improves physical health despite mesothelioma and its harsh treatments.
With any complementary 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 complementary treatment strategy that your medical team has confirmed safe for your circumstances.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.