Gaining Confidence in Your Alternative Treatment Choices

Man holding vitamins

Although many alternative cancer therapies (like acupuncture and yoga) are proven to have a positive impact on patients’ lives, choosing to go through with them can require a leap of faith.

After all, some therapies are hard to wrap your mind around. How can energy therapies make cancer symptoms recede? How can herbs inhibit tumor growth?

When considering therapies like Reiki and the Budwig diet, patients may find themselves doubting if they’ll feel better. But for the sake of hope, many patients try them anyways. (A recent study also says alternative therapies help cancer patients feel more in control of their future.)

In the study, which appears in the most recent 2013 issue of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 48 percent of patients used some form of alternative medicine as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment plan.

The researchers found that the patients had a hard time feeling completely confident about their alternative treatment choices. On the same note, patients rarely felt conflicted about their conventional medicine choices.

Most Common Alternative Therapies in the Study
Multivitamins/minerals (86.1 percent)
Supplements like fish oil and CQ10 (77.8 percent)
Least Common Alternative Therapies in the Study
Reflexology (8.3 percent)
Aromatherapy (5.6 percent)

The researchers suggested that patients were less likely to doubt traditional medicine decisions because physicians based those recommendations on a set of established protocol. While no patient is guaranteed to respond to a traditional treatment, doctors do make educated referrals based on years of research.

Mesothelioma doctors usually choose one regimen over another for any given patient after carefully reviewing similar patients’ responses to the treatment. For example, earlier stage mesothelioma patients tend to respond more positively to surgery, while later-stage mesothelioma patients often get the most benefits from palliative treatments. These time-proven generalities help physicians make treatment plans with confidence.

With alternative medicine, there’s less chance that reputable studies have tracked the therapy’s benefits over a prolonged period of time. Since most alternative medicines are natural, big pharmaceutical companies don’t have economic interest to fund studies on natural cures.

Factors that Influenced the Decision-Making Process

Conflicting information was one of the primary reasons for decision-related doubt. For instance, conventional doctors may say there’s no way a therapy could ever work, while fellow patients or support group members swear by it.

This can certainly make the decision-making process more difficult. Patients generally respect the experience and training that influences their doctors’ decisions, but they fear missing out on a potential cure. This may be an even bigger factor in the case of mesothelioma, when patients may not always be working with an experienced asbestos-related disease specialist.

When patients hear other patients’ first-hand testimonials, they may be more likely to disregard their doctor’s opposition. On many occasions, though, doctors can easily discourage them from trying a treatment they were otherwise excited about. In cases where an unproven treatment is actually dangerous, this can be a good thing.

Reviewing written information did help patients feel more secure in their decisions (both conventional and complementary). More than 75 percent of the patients who did not receive treatment-oriented literature wished that they did.

Perhaps ironically, conventional doctors were the patients’ primary source of information about alternative therapies. Family and friends were the second most common resource, and just over 21 percent turned to Internet sources for additional research. Patients were more likely than physicians to initiate the search for an alternative option.

Committing to a Treatment Regimen

More than half of patients said that once they’d made up their minds, they were unlikely to reconsider. This coincided with the finding that most patients felt fairly efficient at making their own treatment decisions. On a scale of one to 100 (100 being the highest), patients had a mean “decision-making efficacy” of 82.8.

However, 21 percent were willing to re-evaluate their treatment choices before they began the therapy.

The longer patients have to mull over their options, the less likely they are to feel confident in them. Doctors often accelerate the decision-making process with the patient’s initial treatment plan, hoping to not waste valuable time. The researchers suggested that patients had an easier time committing to these quickly-made treatment decisions.

Because alternative therapies require less of a commitment (both time-wise and financially) than traditional treatments, patients may also be more likely to fluctuate from one treatment to the other. With a larger commitment involved with traditional therapies, patients were less likely to waver once they made a decision.

What factors influenced your own personal decision-making process? Did you wait until you felt fully confident in your mesothelioma treatment plan before committing to it? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.


After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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