Any cancer diagnosis can cause stress. Cancer patients have to make many important decisions that can affect their quality of life. For example, mesothelioma patients may need to choose a doctor and a cancer center. They may also have to weigh the risks and benefits of various mesothelioma treatments.
In addition to typical stressors related to cancer, mesothelioma patients must now deal with pandemic-related stress. Many cancer patients may have anxiety about the additional COVID-19 risks they face. This anxiety may be worse in patients with respiratory-related cancers, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. Patients may also worry about potential COVID-19 exposure while seeking an in-person diagnosis or treatment.
COVID-19 Vaccination Helps Cancer Patients
A recent study may help ease concerns of COVID-19 for some mesothelioma patients. In the study, researchers vaccinated patients against COVID-19 during active cancer treatment. Lab tests showed evidence of protection from COVID-19 in 90% of vaccinated cancer patients.
These and other stressors can have a negative effect on health at any time. However, researchers have tied stress to specific effects in cancer patients. For example, stress has been associated with increased fatigue during chemotherapy treatment.
Research has also found active stress management techniques may help cancer patients. In one study, a mindfulness app improved quality of life for cancer patients.
Thus, mesothelioma patients and their caregivers may have interest in stress management strategies. According to research, at least three techniques can help cancer patients manage stress.
The American Cancer Society promotes exercise as a safe and helpful activity during cancer treatment. Physical activity provides several benefits for cancer patients, including:
- Improved muscle strength
- Increased heart and blood vessel fitness
- Reduced fatigue
Patients with mesothelioma should discuss exercise with their physician before starting. An experienced mesothelioma doctor can help determine which activities are safest and most beneficial.
Meditation is a practice in which an individual focuses their attention on something specific. This focus is meant to draw attention away from distressing thoughts or situations. Multiple studies have demonstrated the health benefits of meditation for anyone. These benefits include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Decreased stress markers
- Decreased triglycerides (a contributor to heart disease)
Meditation has also been studied in cancer patients. One study found cancer patients who meditated had superior quality of life versus those who did not. In this study, meditation also improved emotional and physical well-being.
Many cancer patients may find meditation to be attractive due to its convenience. Unlike some other stress management techniques, patients can practice meditation almost anywhere. There are also many apps available to help people learn and practice meditation virtually. This allows cancer patients to build a practice and meditate while maintaining COVID-19 precautions.
Acupuncture is a practice in which small needles are placed at specific locations on the body. The needles are intended to help manage symptoms, such as pain.
Many patients have used acupuncture as a complementary therapy during cancer treatment. Researchers have linked acupuncture to several benefits for cancer patients, including:
- Decreased fatigue
- Decreased nausea
- Decreased pain
- Decreased sleep problems
- Increased quality of life
Acupuncture may also help decrease anxiety.
Patients interested in acupuncture should discuss it with their treatment team. The team may have recommendations for local practitioners with cancer treatment experience.
Additional Recommendations From the CDC
Each of the techniques above have been used to decrease stress in cancer patients. However, they were not tested during a pandemic. Thus, some mesothelioma patients and caregivers may have interest in additional stress management techniques tailored to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made several recommendations for anyone dealing with this additional stress. The CDC’s recommendations include:
- Taking breaks from the news: Ingesting a steady stream of pandemic information can be upsetting. The CDC encourages people to consider taking screen breaks. They also recommend watching the news only once a day.
- Being kind to your body: The CDC recommends deep breathing, healthy meals, exercise and plenty of sleep. They also encourage avoidance of alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances. Additionally, the CDC encourages preventive health measures like cancer screenings and COVID-19 vaccination.
- Taking time to relax: Participating in activities you enjoy may help decrease stress.
- Connecting with others: Video calls, social media and other forms of electronic communication can help you engage with friends and support systems while following social distancing measures.
Anyone struggling with the stress of mesothelioma or COVID-19, should speak with a healthcare provider. Doctors may be able to recommend additional strategies for navigating the stress of mesothelioma and the pandemic.