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Alternative mesothelioma treatments supplement traditional therapies and are not replacements. Patients often seek these treatments to relieve symptoms of the disease and ease the side effects of chemotherapy. Examples of alternative treatments for mesothelioma include herbal medicine, acupuncture, medicinal marijuana, and massage therapy.
What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
A better term for these kinds of therapies is complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. CAM includes any treatments or therapies that fall outside the scope of traditional medicine. Rather than an alternative or substitute for standard medical care, CAM supplements treatment.
Why Do Cancer Patients Use 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.
Most turn to CAM as a way to relieve symptoms and side effects of treatment. For instance, acupuncture might relieve a patient’s nausea resulting from chemotherapy.
What Is Integrative 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.
Are There Any New Treatments for Mesothelioma in CAM?
Some medical researchers do study alternative and traditional medical practices to advance the treatment of cancers like mesothelioma. For instance, researchers are studying plant compounds that might induce cell death, also known as apoptosis, in cancer cells.
It’s important for patients to understand that CAM therapies do not directly treat cancer and are not substitutes for standard medical care.
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.
Types of Complementary and Alternative Medicine
CAM practices and therapies range widely from massage therapy and electrical stimulation to nutrition and herbal medicines.
Supplements and Herbs for Mesothelioma
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 for cancer and dietary supplements are harmless, but others may cause dangerous side effects. Never use an herb or supplement without first talking to your healthcare 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.
It’s important to be aware of unproven claims about products. Essiac tea has been purported to treat cancer and other serious illnesses by boosting the immune system. It is a mixture of burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm, and Indian rhubarb root. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it helps cancer patients, and it can cause side effects.
Beta-glucan is a type of fiber that might prove to be useful in battling cancer. Found in some whole grains, seaweed, and certain mushrooms, beta-glucan seems to boost the immune system in a way that triggers it to attack cancer cells.
Researchers are still investigating beta glucan as a potential cancer treatment. There are some clinical trials ongoing using the fiber, but none that involve mesothelioma patients.
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, tai chi, qigong, 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.
Mental Health Treatments
Mesothelioma patients can benefit from mental health care to improve their quality of life. Living with cancer, facing the fact that it is terminal, going through major life changes, and having physical symptoms can all be damaging to mental health. Patients can try different types of professional mental health care:
- Counseling and therapy. Trained cancer therapists help patients work through their feelings and find ways to cope with difficult emotions and changes.
- Hypnotherapy. Also known as hypnosis therapy, this is a valid therapeutic technique that can help relieve a range of symptoms, including pain and nausea. Hypnotherapists have special training and certifications.
- Support groups and group therapy. Patients can also benefit from socializing with other people living with cancer. This can take the form of formal group therapy with a counselor or in-person and online groups where people chat and share experiences.
- Other therapies. In addition to standard therapy, many mental health professionals offer alternatives that can be very helpful. These include art or music therapy, dance and movement therapy, or animal therapy.
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.
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.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using plant essential oils to improve wellness. Practitioners focus on a patient’s physical and mental and emotional well-being by matching them to specific plants and scents.
Research into the effectiveness of aromatherapy in managing symptoms in cancer patients has been mixed. Some studies show positive effects while others show none.
Evidence shows that some patients might get relief from depression, anxiety, insomnia, dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting. When guided by a trained aromatherapist, risks or side effects are minimal.
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 improve mobility, boost energy, stimulate appetite, improve mood, and reduce stress. Exercise improves physical health despite mesothelioma and its harsh treatments.
Nutritionists and dieticians who specialize in oncology nutrition can help patients plan diets specific to their needs. For instance, a patient might benefit from a diet designed to boost energy or increase protein intake.
How to Choose an Alternative Therapy by Symptom
If you have mesothelioma, you likely have many painful and uncomfortable symptoms caused by cancer and treatments. The primary benefit of CAM therapies is to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life while living with cancer.
If you aren’t sure where to start with alternative therapies, try matching a therapy type to the symptoms causing you the most discomfort:
- Pain. This is one of the most common symptoms of any type of advanced cancer. To manage pain, try acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, meditation, or massage therapy.
- Fatigue. Also very common, both cancer and its treatments cause low energy. Diet and exercise, massage therapy, and yoga can help boost energy.
- Nausea. Chemotherapy commonly causes nausea and vomiting. Cannabis can help, as can acupuncture, aromatherapy, and hypnotherapy.
- Stress and anxiety. Mental health symptoms are to be expected with mesothelioma. If you have these issues, you can benefit from all types of counseling, including group support, aromatherapy, massage therapy, and meditation.
- Insomnia. Difficulty sleeping can result from physical and mental health symptoms. Try one-on-one therapy, hypnotherapy, exercise, aromatherapy, approved herbal supplements, and meditation.
Is it Safe for Mesothelioma Patients to Try Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
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 is safe for your circumstances.
Complementary and alternative therapies for mesothelioma patients can provide numerous benefits. Always talk to your medical team before trying something new. Once you have the go-ahead, try a new therapy that could help you feel better.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
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.