Patients with mesothelioma may turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) while weighing their treatment options or when traditional cancer treatments are no longer effective.
They also may choose CAM because traditional cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy, cause unwanted side effects, including hair loss, pain, fatigue and problems with digestion.
One of the most important things to remember is that patients must always consult their doctor or oncologist before trying any type of CAM.
Types of CAM
CAM can be divided into several different types, including energy, exercise and spiritual therapies; as well as nutritional and mind-body techniques. Many of these may work alone or in combination with each other and traditional treatments.
Alternative Medical Systems
This category includes traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy.
Some forms of Ayurveda include natural supplements such as curcumin, tulsi and ashwagandha. Curcumin is an active ingredient common in turmeric, an Asian spice.
The compound is now recognized for its antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Acupuncture, once considered a new wave curiosity in the U.S., is known to be an effective treatment for many forms of pain. Several health insurance companies currently provide coverage for acupuncture.
The World Health Organization evaluated clinical trials on acupuncture and concluded it’s an effective treatment for adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, depression, headache, nausea and vomiting, neck pain and postoperative pain.
Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
Manipulative and body-based methods move or adjust parts of the body to treat various conditions.
Chiropractic care and therapeutic massage are among the most common body-based methods in the U.S. Other body-based methods include osteopathy and reflexology.
Energy therapies aim to balance and heal fields of energy in and around the body. It is believed that when energy fields are balanced and flowing freely, our body is better able to fight disease and infection.
Practitioners of energy therapies report reduced stress and improved quality of life after using such therapies.
Reiki, therapeutic touch and Jin Shin Jyutsu are popular energy therapies.
Exercise therapies, such as yoga and tai chi, are systems of exercise and movement that incorporate breathing, movement, stretching and body awareness.
People who practice these types of therapies often report mental and emotional benefits, as well as improved flexibility and strength.
Mind-body interventions include meditation, relaxation therapy, hypnosis, support groups, and art and music therapy.
These therapies strive to improve the mind’s ability to influence bodily function and cope with symptoms or side effects. The goal: Promote relaxation and reduce the experience of stress so the body is better equipped to fight diseases such as mesothelioma.
Many people diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma turn to some form of spiritual therapy — most commonly prayer.
Prayer circles and spiritual healing are other examples of spiritual therapies. Prayer can have a calming effect on the body.
Nutritional therapies are those that involve a specific diet (vegetarian, Gerson therapy, Budwig Protocol), nutrient, non-nutrient (such as minerals) or food to prevent cancer, treat it, reduce symptoms and ease side effects.
Vitamins, antioxidants, herbs and phytochemicals are also among the types of nutritional therapies.
Nutritional supplement serrapeptase also shows anti-inflammatory properties to relieve symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, bloody sputum, difficulty breathing, and dull chest pain, related to lung conditions. The supplement is commonly used in Japan and Europe.
Mangosteen fruit and its antioxidant properties are linked to stimulating the body’s natural killer T cells to shrink the size of tumors.
Involve Your Oncologist
Years ago, oncologists were not as knowledgeable about CAM therapies and their standard advice to patients was to avoid them because there were no studies on how CAM therapies would affect your health or your treatment outcome.
It’s important to be open and honest with your oncologist about your interest in CAM before trying any therapies on your own.
Your oncologist, registered dietitian or nutritionist at your cancer center can advise you about the possible conflicts of a complementary approach in combination with your current treatment.
They also know how to spot questionable sources of alternative medicine that are not safe.
Current CAM Research
A growing number of mesothelioma patients, who have limited treatment options, are seeking information about CAM therapies for treatment or symptom management of diseases and infections.
Thankfully, there has been plenty of ongoing research at cancer centers and universities investigating on how to safely and effectively incorporate CAM therapies.
The federal government founded the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.
The National Cancer Institute in October 1998 developed the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). The goal of the department is to further expand the agency’s agenda regarding CAM and its role in cancer diagnosis, treatment, managing symptoms and prevention.
Other CAM resources include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.