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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a misunderstood therapy. It involves some practices, products and procedures that are not considered conventional cancer treatments because they are not all based on scientific evidence.
However, some cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, may turn to these treatments. But these should be considered only under their doctors’ advice because CAM may interfere with medications and other conventional treatments.
You may have seen this terminology before, but you may not know what the words “complementary” and “alternative” mean in the context of health care.
Alternative medicine is not commonly used by people with mesothelioma. Most cancer patients avoid alternative medicine and choose to combine proven complementary therapies with conventional medicine.
No alternative treatment has ever been proven to cure mesothelioma or improve survival rates. The use of some alternative treatments may negatively impact a patient by delaying or avoiding a more scientifically proven form of treatment.
Integrative medicine is a type of CAM that unites conventional medicine with complementary therapies to address the person’s holistic health. When this approach is used in cancer care, it is called integrative oncology.
Holistic therapies used to manage side effects that come with mesothelioma treatment can include:
Integrative oncology only uses evidence-based complementary therapies. This means the therapies have been proven safe and successful in cancer research.
Some mesothelioma cancer centers offer complementary therapies through integrative oncology programs.
These programs unite clinically proven complementary therapies with conventional medicine. They treat the whole person, not just the disease.
The programs offer a variety of complementary therapies. Some of these include massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation and nutritional counseling.
Integrative oncology doesn’t promise a cure for mesothelioma, nor does it consistently improve survival.
In some cases, complementary therapies may help patients tolerate conventional mesothelioma treatments.
For example, some patients find it hard to finish all cycles of chemotherapy prescribed to them because of side effects. Complementary therapies for nausea and vomiting may help patients better tolerate chemotherapy for longer periods, which could have a positive impact on survival.
However, a 2018 study published in JAMA Oncology by researchers from Yale School of Medicine found that many cancer patients who used complementary therapies were more likely to skip out on at least one aspect of their conventional treatment plan, negatively impacting patient survival in the study.
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Many of the following complementary therapies are used in palliative medicine to control mesothelioma symptoms or alleviate treatment side effects.
Adequate and balanced nutrition is essential before, during and after cancer treatment.
Oncologists are promoting the importance of a healthy diet in cancer care, especially to accommodate symptoms such as nausea and difficulty swallowing. Some cancer centers even employ registered oncology dietitians to help mesothelioma patients create personalized meal plans and offer guidance on dietary supplements.
Eating well is crucial to feeling physically and mentally better. Good nutrition helps you to get through your treatments in the best way possible and helps the body heal.Tejal ParekhRegistered & Licensed Dietitian
Cancer doctors recommend gentle exercise to patients because research shows it improves the quality of life, lessens the side effects of cancer treatment and lowers the risk of cancer mortality and recurrence. Studies also show it lessens fatigue, improves physical function and boosts mood.
Herbal medicines are made from plants and administered in capsules, powders, teas, creams and tinctures. Examples of herbal medicine include Essiac tea, mistletoe extracts and turmeric.
Some scientific research suggests certain herbs may improve cancer symptoms and reduce the side effects of treatment, while other herbs may interfere with cancer treatment. Plant-based medications are an essential part of traditional Chinese medicine.
A 2020 study published in Molecules reported four plant extracts traditionally used in Thailand on lung cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The extracts were found to kill lung cancer cells and promoted the effects of chemotherapy.
Medical marijuana is considered an herbal medicine, and research shows it may help relieve pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea in cancer patients. Scientific studies also suggest it may improve appetite during chemotherapy and help cancer patients with insomnia.
Coping with the mental, emotional and social aspects of a mesothelioma diagnosis is challenging. Many cancer centers now offer counseling and support groups to cancer patients and their families.
Specific mind-body therapies have been scientifically studied in cancer patients, including yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation.
While the following studies report on the benefits of yoga for cancer patients, not every form of yoga is safe for people with cancer to practice. Mesothelioma patients should avoid aggressive or hot styles of yoga, such as Bikram or power yoga, and instead opt for gentler versions of yoga, such as hatha or yin yoga.
Qigong and tai chi are similar mind-body disciplines that unite flowing, slow-motion movement with breathing and mindfulness. These mind-body practices are gentle and considered safe for people with mesothelioma to practice.
At its core, meditation is simply a practice of awareness. Some forms of meditation are spiritually focused, while others focus on mindfulness. Meditation is considered safe for people with mesothelioma to practice, but patients should not participate in any form of meditation that requires fasting from food or water.
Several other types of complementary therapies have been scientifically studied in cancer care.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS therapy) uses low-voltage electrical current to relieve pain. Cancer patients can safely use TENS therapy from the comfort of their homes. They do not have to visit a medical center to receive this therapy.
A 2015 study published in Pain Medicine found that TENS therapy significantly relieved cancer-related pain for roughly 70% of participants.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment in which thin needles are inserted into the skin to relieve pain and stress built up in the body. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but uses finger pressure instead of needles to stimulate acupuncture points.
Though some perceive a massage as a luxurious way of relaxing, massage therapy can actually be a form of medical treatment. For example, lymph drainage therapy, also known as lymphatic massage, is a technique used after cancer surgery that helps relieve fluid buildup in lymph nodes.
There are dozens of massage categories, but not all are appropriate for cancer patients. Certain conditions may be worsened by deep pressure or physical manipulation commonly used in deep tissue or sports massage. Mesothelioma patients should consult a doctor to help them find a practitioner who specializes in the type of massage best used for their condition and prognosis.
Energy therapies include a variety of techniques that intend to heal a person using “energy.” These therapies are based on a belief in a form of energy known as “life force energy,” which hasn’t been proven to exist in scientific studies. It is important to note that while energy therapies may be used as complementary therapy, there is no scientific evidence to support their use in cancer care.
Cancer patients’ primary energy therapies include music and sound therapy, Therapeutic Touch and reiki.
It is essential to talk to your mesothelioma doctor before trying any complementary therapy.
While no cancer treatment can cure mesothelioma, specific treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy, have been proven to help patients live longer. Combining the most effective conventional mesothelioma treatments with complementary therapies and palliative care is safer than an alternative approach.
A 2021 scientific review evaluated the palliative care needs of mesothelioma patients and found they cope with a high degree of uncertainty regarding treatment, financial and legal matters, and how to move forward. It is essential to raise such concerns with your doctor because they may have resources to help you and your family cope.
Mesothelioma patients often turn to complementary and alternative medicine to live longer, better lives. Some of the nation’s top mesothelioma cancer centers are now using integrative oncology to help patients recover from surgery and cope with the side effects of chemotherapy. You should consult your doctor before using any complementary therapy or alternative treatment.
Complementary treatments supplement standard medical therapies. For example, a mesothelioma diet can reduce side effects and improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Alternative mesothelioma treatments are used instead of conventional medical therapies. While uncommon, a patient may choose to undergo acupuncture as an alternative to anti-cancer medicine.
Complementary and alternative medicine are options for patients seeking supplemental mesothelioma treatment options that may help alleviate symptoms. CAM used in conjunction with conventional cancer therapy is known as integrative medicine. Integrative medicine options do not offer a cure and are not proven to improve survival.
Patients often turn to complementary treatments in an effort toward surviving mesothelioma. In many cases, these patients have lived long and fulfilling lives, and they attribute integrative medicine with helping them recover from surgery or cope with side effects. Patients should always consult with their doctor before using complementary treatments to avoid any negative interactions.
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