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A doctor of osteopathy can be a great addition to a medical team for someone with mesothelioma or another cancer. This trained and licensed medical caregiver can diagnose and treat patients, but works under a different philosophy than an M.D. Osteopaths focus on prevention, treating the whole person, and physical manipulation of the musculoskeletal system.
If you are interested in osteopathy, talk to your primary doctor and your oncologist first. Though it can relieve pain and other symptoms, it may not be the right time for you to try osteopathic treatment.
What is Osteopathic Medicine?
Osteopathic medicine, or osteopathy, is a distinct philosophy of medical care and treatment different from traditional medicine developed over a hundred years ago by a doctor named Andrew Taylor Still. Osteopathic doctors focus on the whole person, as opposed to simply diagnosing and treating one condition or one symptom. Osteopathy focuses on the musculoskeletal system in particular, including bones, muscles, tendons, and other connective tissues.
Doctors of osteopathy, known as DOs, are trained medical professionals who can diagnose and treat patients, perform surgery, and prescribe medications, just like a medical doctor. But they have a different philosophy of healing. They focus on prevention, treating the whole patient, while manipulating the musculoskeletal system to promote natural healing.
Osteopathic manipulation is one techniques DOs use to treat patients. It resembles chiropractic manipulation but goes beyond the spine to include specific manipulation of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints throughout the body. A DO may use massage, stretching, moving of joints, manipulation of muscles, and high velocity thrusts, which are sharp and short motions, to manipulate the body.
Craniosacral therapy is another osteopathic technique in which the skull and the base of the spine, called the sacrum, are manipulated to relieve a variety of symptoms by realigning the energy between the spine and the brain.
Complementing Cancer Treatment with Osteopathy
No osteopathic practitioner will claim that musculoskeletal manipulation can cure cancer or replace traditional treatments like chemotherapy or surgery. However, these doctors can provide complementary care for people with mesothelioma and other cancers. They can work within the medical team treating these patients to relieve symptoms and reduce or relieve the side effects of treatment.
How Osteopathy Can Help Mesothelioma Patients
Osteopathy is widely accepted in modern medicine and used by many patients, including those with cancer. Research into its benefits to cancer patients is limited, though. Most studies of osteopathic manipulation focus on back pain and headaches. Some evidence shows manipulation can relieve this sort of pain, but evidence that it helps with cancer-specific symptoms is anecdotal.
The anecdotal evidence is strong, though. There simply has not been research done to prove what many patients know: osteopathic doctors can help cancer patients. An osteopathic doctor can help patients get relief from pain and improve mobility. Osteopathy promotes general healing and most patients report that hands-on manipulation helps to relax their bodies and minds, reducing stress and anxiety.
Risks and Contraindications of Osteopathy
Osteopathic medicine is generally safe, but there may be a few minor risks associated with manipulation of the musculoskeletal system, so osteopathy is not the best choice for some patients. Some people report mildly uncomfortable side effects of osteopathic treatment, including fatigue, a slight headache, or soreness in the area of the body being treated. Most complications are minor and go away after a day or two.
There is a very small risk that manipulation of the neck can cause a patient to have a stroke. This is very rare, and it happens in only a few people in a million. The risk is slightly higher for anyone who is already prone to having a stroke, which is why it is important for an osteopathic doctor to know a patient’s full medical history before administering treatment.
Osteopathic manipulation is not recommended for patients undergoing radiation therapy, patients on blood thinners, or patients who are eight to twelve weeks pregnant. Some doctors may also advise against this treatment during chemotherapy or if a patient’s cancer has metastasized. For some cancer patients, an osteopathic doctor may simply need to moderate techniques to accommodate them.Most cancer patients should not undergo any of the forceful high velocity thrusts that osteopaths that doctors often use to realign a patient’s musculoskeletal system.
An Osteopathic Visit
A doctor of osteopathic medicine can be a great addition to a cancer patient’s medical team. If you want to try this type of medicine, make sure your other doctors know you are seeing an osteopath and vice versa. It is important that your DO has access to your cancer care team. Communication between all your health care providers is important for safety and good care.
A visit to a DO should start with a complete medical history. Your doctor will need to know everything about your health, your cancer, and your treatments. You may want to bring your cancer care records with you. The DO will ask you a lot of questions, not just about your health, but about all areas of your life. You can also expect to be examined, and if deemed safe, to undergo a manipulation session, which will last about 30 minutes. If anything feels painful or uncomfortable during the manipulation, be sure to speak up so your doctor can make changes to the treatment.
Osteopathic medicine is a valid type of medical treatment, and one gaining in popularity. With its greater focus on prevention, wellness, and hands-on treatment and care for the whole person, osteopathy is an attractive choice for many patients. For someone with mesothelioma, this professional can be an important member of a complete medical team. DOs can provide important care and treatment that medical doctors cannot. If you want to try osteopathic medicine, be sure to talk to your medical team about the possibility and ask about any precautions you need to take before you begin.
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.