Treating mesothelioma is difficult, and many patients decide to pursue alternative treatments. Complementary and alternative treatments cannot cure mesothelioma, but they can greatly reduce symptoms and offer comfort to patients. Often classified as palliative care, these treatments are common for patients in the later stages of diagnosis, but can be used at any time during a patient’s treatment journey.
Acupuncture for Cancer Treatment
Many cancer patients use acupuncture palliatively. Narrow needles are inserted into the skin at specific pressure points, which has shown much success in relieving pain for cancer patients. Some scientific studies have proven that acupuncture helps treat dyspnea (difficulty breathing), a common symptom of mesothelioma.
Aromatherapy for Cancer
Aromatherapy takes oils from plants, otherwise known as essential oils, and uses them to promote a healthy mind, body and spirit. Studies have shown aromatherapy to help with anxiety, depression and fatigue for cancer patients, as well as other treatment side effects, including nausea.
The aim of biofeedback therapy is to train the human body to gain control over actions that are usually involuntary. This alternative treatment is often used to help with mesothelioma pain management. However, clinical studies have also shown its success with symptoms such as headache, hypertension, and insomnia.
More broadly known as a type of health coach, a cancer coach can be a great resource for mesothelioma patients. Cancer coaches work with patients to find ways to improve their quality of life through alleviating pain and stress, and making important lifestyle changes that can help speed up the healing process after cancer treatments. These techniques can make the patient more calm and comfortable throughout their treatment journey.
Chiropractic Cancer Treatment
Mesothelioma symptoms or treatment side effects may leave patients with symptoms that cannot be managed through medications or other therapies. Many cancer patients seek chiropractic care as an alternative method of cancer care. Studies have shown that chiropractic treatment is effective for helping reduce pain, stiffness, poor mobility and similar symptoms in patients with breast cancer, lung cancer, mesothelioma and other forms of cancer. As with all alternative treatment methods, patients must discuss options with their health care team to ensure viability with other therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation, that may complicate options.
Craniosacral therapy, also referred to as cranial therapy and cranial osteopathy, is similar to massage therapy. This complementary treatment focuses on the skull and lower portion of the spine and is thought to address a variety of ailments from sinus infections to chronic fatigue. In its relationship with pleural, pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma, craniosacral therapy aims to relieve pain. Practitioners focus on the “pulses” of targeted areas of the body, which allows them to tune into the craniosacral system and its function.
Feng Shui is a practice that originated in China as a form of traditional Chinese medicine, but has become widely used across the United States. It is designed to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environments through positive Qi. Teachers of Feng Shui believe that an individual's environment can stifle healing, so changes to that space can promote faster healing. Practitioners will often come to the cancer patient’s home to identify geopathic stress points – supposed irregularities in the earth’s magnetic field. They may rearrange furniture or switch the room in which the patient sleeps in an effort to improve their quality of life.
Healing Touch and Touch Therapy for Cancer
Therapies such as healing touch therapy and therapeutic touch therapy are not a cure for cancer or other malignancies. As common forms of alternative treatments, they are offered at a range of locations, including hospitals and spas. They also are not seen as a replacement for treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. There is no scientific evidence that they affect the cancer, though many patients have reported an overall better feeling of wellness and a reduction in the negative side effects associated with conventional treatments.
Healing Touch Therapy vs. Therapeutic Touch Therapy
Healing touch involves many different techniques, whereas therapeutic touch therapy is more specific. Both therapies work with the supposed energies around the human body with light or near-body touches. Healing touch involves addressing goals and concerns with the patient, connecting with their energy field and working to clear and balance energies. Therapeutic touch allows the practitioner to locate the energy field, find areas where energy flow is inhibited or blocked, remove the inhibitions and induce relaxation. Those that practice these therapies feel that it can speed up the healing process and promote relaxation, particularly helpful for mesothelioma patients dealing with bothersome symptoms or high levels of stress from the disease.
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Herbal & Nutritional Supplements for Cancer Patients
With an average life expectancy of just 1 – 2 years, mesothelioma patients often resort to a variety of alternative and palliative treatments to enhance their quality of life after the disease has progressed. Many patients opt to change their diet and try both herbal and nutritional supplements to help manage symptoms, strengthen their immune system and enhance their overall wellness. Some patients have even shown a better response to chemotherapy treatment.
Homeopathic Cancer Treatment
Malignant mesothelioma patients are often prescribed many different medications as a part of their treatment plan. For those that don’t want to continue adding more medicine to their body, they often turn to homeopathic treatment. Homeopathy involves the use of nature-based substances, such as plant extracts and minerals that are strongly diluted to ensure safe administration to the patient. Homeopathic remedies aren’t used to address the disease specifically, but are meant to stimulate the body. For mesothelioma, the remedy wouldn’t aim to destroy or shrink the malignant tumor, but instead would stimulate the body to destroy the cancer cells on its own. Some supporters of this method believe that homeopathy can cure cancer, though there is no scientific evidence supporting this claim.
There have been many studies that have looked at the relationship with hypnotherapy and patients going through cancer treatment. While there is a need for more research, evidence has shown that hypnotherapy can greatly help with anxiety, depression, distress, pain and sleep problems, all of which are prominent for patients going through treatment for an aggressive cancer like malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Light Therapy for Cancer Treatment
Light therapy is a complementary therapy that some cancer patients find helpful throughout the course of their conventional treatment plan, helping to reduce pain, stress and anxiety. Photosensitizing agents are injected into the patient’s body, which are then absorbed by cancer cells. Light is applied to the treated area, causing an interaction between the drugs and the oxygen to form a cancer-killing chemical.
Some studies have shown that photodynamic therapy can be used to address tumors that cannot be surgically removed, improving quality of life and potentially extending lifespan. When used post-surgery, clinical studies have also found that PDT can be used to improve prognosis and extend life expectancy for mesothelioma patients.
Lymphatic Drainage Therapy
Lymphedema occurs when a blockage prevents fluids from draining properly, causing the lymph nodes to retain excess lymphatic fluid, causing swelling in various parts of the body. This can also be caused by lymph node removal, which is the case for many cancer patients, altering and hindering the way that the lymphatic fluid flows. Radiation therapy, a common treatment for mesothelioma, can also cause lymphedema as the lymph nodes are damaged or scar tissue forms in lymph-collecting tubes.
Lymphedema is a permanent condition, but can be treated with lymphatic drainage therapy. For any patient experiencing swelling after surgery, chemotherapy or radiation during his or her mesothelioma treatment, lymph drainage therapy may be a complementary treatment option.
Massage and Cancer
Massage therapy is the hands-on practice of physical manipulation of the body’s soft tissues, ideal for relaxation and pain relief. There are many different types of massages, including Acupressure, Anma and Balinese, which all have different effects on the body. Though more studies are needed and results differ on a patient-to-patient basis, some have suggested that massage therapy can help cancer patients deal with symptoms of pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, anger, stress and fatigue.
Meditation for Cancer Healing
The benefits of meditation and other mind-body therapies vary, working better for some than others. The main goal of meditation is for individuals to clear their mind and find a calm, relaxed state. In terms of cancer patients, meditation can help ease the stress and anxiety of a jarring diagnosis, such as mesothelioma, and offer a sense of solace during difficult treatment journeys. Meditation may also help patients think clearly and come to more confident decisions about their health care.
Music Therapy for Cancer Patients
Music therapy can take many different forms, including playing an instrument, singing or listening to music. Case studies have shown that music therapy can support cancer patients in particular in terms of mood, stress, pain, anxiety and trouble relaxing, all common throughout the treatment process. This enhances an overall state of well-being and encourages a high-quality of life, which is particularly important for those facing a poor life expectancy and looking for palliative care options.
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Naturopathic Cancer Treatment
Some cancer centers believe that a combination of conventional treatments and complementary therapies is the best treatment plan for cancer patients. One alternative treatment that some use is naturopathy, also referred to as naturopathic medicine. Naturopathy takes a natural, holistic approach to medicine, targeting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Naturopathic medicine is thought to induce the body’s self-healing process, which some feel could be beneficial as a supplemental treatment option alongside traditional modes like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Nutrition Cancer Treatment
Mesothelioma cancer and mesothelioma treatment options can cause a variety of nutritional issues, including anorexia and cachexia. Maintaining a nutritious diet and catering to your body’s needs can help maintain body weight and boost body strength, while proteins and calories help heal, fight infection and provide energy. Some cancer centers encourage vegan and vegetarian cancer diets to bring in rich vitamins, lean proteins and fibers, allowing patients to feel better and stronger. As with all treatments, it’s crucial for patients to discuss plans with their medical care team.
Mesothelioma patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy often look for alternative methods to handle negative treatment side effects, one of which is osteopathic medicine, otherwise known as osteopathy or OMT. OMT focuses on the musculoskeletal system, and is typically a gentle, hands-on therapy that targets certain areas of the body to restore balance, reduce stress, loosen and stretch joints, all while improving pain and fatigue.
Personal Fitness and Training
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for any individual, but personal fitness and training can provide additional support to cancer patients through distraction, helping establish a routine and improving their outlook on life. There are many trainers and personal fitness coaches that specialize in working with those diagnosed with mesothelioma and other cancers, providing individuals with the support and care needed to accommodate any potential limitations and physical concerns.
Pet Therapy for Cancer Patients
While having a pet brings joy to many households, it can be especially beneficial for cancer patients. Studies have shown a proven connection between interaction with a pet and lower blood pressures, decreased anxiety, mood improvement and even pain relief. Petting your dog, cat or other pet can produce endorphins – chemicals that suppress the pain response. Pets also become welcome companions, offering comfort and support after treatments and a distraction from the stress of a cancer diagnosis.
To find pet therapy, patients are encouraged to reach out to their cancer center or clinic, which may be able to provide help finding a compatible program. Therapy Dogs International and The Delta Society can also help patients and families find pet therapy programs.
Reflexology for Cancer
Pain is a common symptom of cancer, including mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma can cause chest pain, abdominal pain, back pain, pelvic pain and discomfort in many other areas. Reflexology is another alternative method that is sometimes used to relieve pain. Pressure is applied to specific points on the body, often on the feet, which are thought to be linked to organs and systems within the body. In addition to pain relief, reflexology is thought to also help treat anxiety.
Reiki Therapy for Cancer Patients
Many mesothelioma patients use reiki therapy as a complementary care option, alongside traditional forms of treatment. Reiki involves a practitioner putting his or her hands close to or softly on the patient’s body, hoping to facilitate their natural healing process. There isn’t any scientific backing of its effectiveness, though cancer patients have attested success with pain relief, better sleeping habits, help with tension and an overall improved well-being.
Sound Therapy for Cancer
Music therapy can fall under the category of sound therapy, a broad, encompassing category of alternative therapy methods. Sound therapy could involve the use of chanting, singing bowls or small sound boxes. Many feel that sound therapy can help reduce pain levels of cancer patients and potentially even shrink tumors, though patients are encouraged to discuss options with their mesothelioma specialist.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS Therapy)
TENS Therapy is a palliative alternative treatment option that directs electrical stimulation through different parts of the body. This then increases the level of endorphins and hopefully reduces pain, which can be a characteristic symptom of mesothelioma or associated treatments. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation can be done through a physical therapist or at home with the proper equipment.
Yoga for Cancer
Yoga is a practice used by many for physical and emotional health, offering a variety of benefits from improving range of movement, helping alleviate pain and inducing a state of relaxation. This could be particularly helpful for patients dealing with the stress of their diagnosis or pain and stiffness from treatment.
Do Alternative Cancer Treatments Work?
Most alternative techniques are used as complementary treatment options, supplementing surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Many lack scientific evidence and their effects vary from patient to patient. For those diagnosed with a disease such as mesothelioma that has a poor prognosis and bothersome symptoms, alternative treatments might be appealing as palliative care, helping the patient live a comfortable, high-quality life.
Mesothelioma patients must work with their medical care team to establish a treatment plan, especially if the plan involves complementary and alternative medicine. Some alternative methods could conflict with conventional techniques or clinical trials that the patient may be participating in. Patients should seek the help of health professionals to understand the growing list of conventional treatments, alternative treatments, experimental treatments and clinical trials potentially available to them. Continued research and awareness offers hope for finding a cure and surviving mesothelioma.
Author: Linda Molinari
Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer AllianceRead about Linda
Reviewer: Annette Charlevois
Patient Support CoordinatorRead about Annette
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