14 Min Read
Last Updated: 05/29/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Michelle Whitmer | Medically Reviewed By Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Integrative Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine for Mesothelioma

Integrative medicine is the practice of uniting complementary therapies and standard medical approaches, using various options to help manage symptoms and treatment side effects. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, replaces standard therapies to attempt to treat mesothelioma. 

Integrative and alternative medicine both refer to a variety of products, practices and procedures that may provide relief for some patients but thorough scientific evidence of efficacy is lacking and aren’t considered cancer treatments.

Mesothelioma Alternative Treatments
  • Alternative Medicine for Mesothelioma: Therapies used in place of traditional treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery
  • Complementary Medicine for Mesothelioma: Therapies used in combination with traditional treatment methods, typically intended to ease symptoms and side effects

While patients with mesothelioma may use the same types of therapies in both alternative and complementary medicine, the intention and approach are very different. Most patients interested in other therapies use them as complementary medicine along with their traditional treatment. 

Speak with your doctor if you’re interested in pursuing complementary medicine. Some therapies can interfere with conventional methods or medications. While there is no mesothelioma cure, conventional treatments can extend survival. Pursuing alternatives instead of conventional treatment can impact your prognosis.

Types of Complementary Treatments and Alternative Therapies for Mesothelioma

You can choose from a wide range of complementary and alternative therapies for mesothelioma. Always speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new therapy to manage your symptoms. 

Integrative oncology, for example, is an approach that uses complementary therapies in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment options. It uses evidence-based complementary therapies that cancer research indicates are safe and effective. 

Some common ways to manage side effects include acupuncture and medical marijuana for pain management and chemo side effects. Mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation can help manage stress and difficult emotions. Nutrition and exercise can help improve quality of life.

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CBD and Medical Marijuana

Many mesothelioma patients use medical marijuana and CBD to manage a variety of symptoms like nausea, pain and stress. This accessible therapy allows patients to choose their preferred method of delivery, including smoking the dried leaves, consuming edibles and capsules or applying topical products to the skin. 

15%

Percentage of respondents to The Mesothelioma Center’s 2023 patient survey who reported trying medical marijuana. It was the most popular complementary treatment overall among those surveyed.

According to The Mesothelioma Center’s exclusive state of mesothelioma survey, in the 61-70 age group, 20% of mesothelioma patients reported CBD or medical marijuana use. Studies show that cannabis may have anti-cancer benefits, making it a potentially good choice for mesothelioma patients. 

Cupping

Cupping therapy uses cups to create suction on the patient’s skin for several minutes, stimulating blood flow. A practitioner heats the cup and then places it upside down on the patient’s skin. As the trapped air cools, the cup creates a vacuum, pulling up the skin. Cupping is an ancient therapy that may treat a variety of symptoms, such as inflammation, pain and stress. 

While evidence remains scarce, some cancer patients report finding relief from symptoms with cupping. It may be a useful treatment for lower back pain. Patients should discuss exploring its use for lung injury and respiratory diseases with their doctor if they’re interested.

Survivor Story
Kevin Hession Pleural Mesothelioma

Survivor Shares His Supplemental Alternative Treatment Story

Survivor Story

Kevin says of alternative therapies in conjunction with his traditional treatments, “Has it helped? I don’t know. But I’m still doing well two years after my surgery.” He’s been receiving cupping treatments, or fire cupping. Heated cups are applied to the skin. Kevin told us, “The cups create a suction on your back. It might be a little painful, but it’s not much.”

Read Kevin’s Story

Exercise

Most oncologists recommend gentle exercise to mesothelioma patients. Light exercises can alleviate side effects, reduce fatigue, elevate mood and improve quality of life. Including exercise in a patient’s treatment plan also lowers the risk of mortality and cancer recurrence. 

Mesothelioma patients who exercise have better cardiovascular fitness, which helps them cope with common treatments like surgery and chemotherapy. Starting a gentle exercise practice can also improve sleep, allowing patients to rest and recover more effectively. Dr. Diana Molinares, director of oncology rehabilitation medicine for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami, recommends light and frequent exercise to build a routine and combat fatigue. 

Herbal Medicine and Dietary Supplements

Herbal medicines and dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals are another form of complementary medicine that mesothelioma patients may find helpful. Many herbs and supplements claim to boost overall wellness, improve cancer symptoms or reduce side effects from conventional treatments. 

Did You Know?
There are no provisions in the law for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve dietary supplements for safety. Speak to your doctor about product safety.

Mesothelioma patients must exercise caution when using herbal medicines and dietary supplements. These substances don’t have to undergo the same rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness as prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Some herbs that are popular choices include Essiac tea, turmeric and mistletoe extracts. These and other plant-based remedies are an essential part of traditional Chinese medicine. Every patient’s needs are different, so anyone wishing to try herbs and supplements should speak with their doctor to determine what they need, and which remedies won’t interfere or negatively interact with other treatments. 

Mental Health Therapies

Mental health therapy to help patients cope with the mental, emotional and social challenges of a mesothelioma diagnosis can be as important as addressing the patient’s physical symptoms and needs. More cancer centers are now recognizing the need for counseling and support groups and are providing these services to patients and their families.

Mental Health Therapy for Mesothelioma
  • Mental Health Counseling: Counselors can help patients process their emotions more effectively to better cope with their diagnosis and treatment. Many cancer centers provide free counseling services to patients.
  • Pet Therapy: Spending time with a pet such as a dog or cat can bring comfort and improve the patient’s mood. Many treatment centers now offer pet therapy to patients.
  • Support Groups: Speaking with others who share similar struggles and challenges can make a patient feel seen and understood. This type of support and compassion is invaluable to mesothelioma patients.

Mental health support is an integral part of the treatment of any disease. While often viewed as a complementary therapy, the impact that mental health has on a patient’s well-being is profound. People who include mental health therapy tend to be better equipped to handle the physical and emotional stress that comes with illness. 

Mind-Body Therapies

Various mind-body therapies have shown scientifically proven results in alleviating symptoms in cancer patients. These methods encourage the mind to stay present and aware of the body’s functions. They promote relaxation, lessen stress and can improve health and wellbeing.

Mind-Body Therapy Modalities
  • Meditation: Meditation is the practice of awareness and usually encourages practitioners to stay mindful and focus on their breathing or another constant. This therapy can address sleep problems, mood issues and fatigue.
  • Qigong and Tai Chi: These disciplines combine slow body movements with mindful breathing. They are gentle and effective for treating fatigue, inflammation and mental health.
  • Yoga: Gentle types like Hatha or yin yoga are excellent choices for mesothelioma patients wanting to start a yoga practice. This therapy may improve respiratory function, sleep and mental health.

Not every mind-body therapy is appropriate for cancer patients. Mesothelioma patients should always speak with their doctor to find safe, gentle therapies that support the body and mind without adding more strain. 

Nutrition

Proper, balanced nutrition is essential before, during and after cancer treatment. A mesothelioma diet can address symptoms such as nausea and difficulty swallowing. Some cancer treatment centers have registered oncology dietitians available to assist mesothelioma patients in creating personalized meal plans. 

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.

More oncology teams are stressing the importance of good nutrition as a complementary therapy for mesothelioma. Patients can also change their diet to address other factors such as inflammation that can lead to improved outcomes.

Additional Types of Complementary Medicine

Other complementary therapies have proven success rates in improving cancer symptoms and side effects. Explore the pros and cons of each available option through careful research before deciding with your doctor which ones are best suited to you.

Other Complementary Therapies
  • Acupuncture and Acupressure: Acupuncture uses thin needles to stimulate points on the body to relieve pain, stress and other symptoms. Acupressure is a similar therapy that uses finger pressure to stimulate points instead of needles.
  • Energy Therapies: Energy therapies use “life force energy” to help heal a person. Types of energy therapy include reiki, music therapy, sound therapy and Therapeutic Touch.
  • TENS Therapy: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation uses low-voltage electrical current for pain relief that patients can do at home. About 70% of patients experience reduced pain.
  • Therapeutic and Lymphatic Massage: Massage is more than relaxing; it can also stimulate lymph drainage to relieve fluid buildup. Other types of massage can reduce pain, fatigue, stress and other symptoms, but it’s important to only use those techniques approved for cancer patients.

Another therapy that can fall into the category of complementary is palliative care. Despite the high mortality rate of mesothelioma, only 48% receive palliative medicine to manage pain. A recent scientific review reported that many patients face uncertainty regarding their treatment options, finances and legal rights. Speaking to your doctor can put you in touch with essential resources that can aid you and your family. 

Integrative Oncology Programs at Mesothelioma Cancer Centers

Some mesothelioma cancer centers offer integrative oncology programs that include complementary therapies. These types of programs aim to treat the whole person, not just the disease, employing additional therapies where appropriate to ease symptoms and improve overall quality of life. 

Different programs offer complementary therapies such as massage, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, tai chi and nutritional counseling. Some are more extensive than others. It’s best to work with your doctor to find the right program for you. Do your research and ask questions to discover what types of complementary therapies may help to alleviate your symptoms and support your treatment plan. 

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Can Integrative Medicine Improve Mesothelioma Survival?

Integrative oncology doesn’t promise a cure for mesothelioma, nor does it consistently improve survival rates. The main purpose of complementary therapies is to improve comfort, quality of life and tolerance of conventional mesothelioma treatments.

For example, patients who find finishing chemotherapy a challenge because of the side effects can find some relief in complementary therapies for nausea and vomiting. The ability to complete the full chemo treatment can have a positive impact on survival.  

It’s critical to continue to follow the treatment plan your mesothelioma doctor directs, even if the complementary therapies provide some relief. Skipping conventional treatments, even one, can negatively impact a patient’s survival. 

Mesothelioma Survivors Who Used Integrative or Alternative Treatments

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.

Jim Huff
Pleural mesothelioma survivor

When Jim Huff was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2016, he wasn’t interested in undergoing chemotherapy and dealing with the harsh side effects that often come with the conventional treatment. Instead, he turned to medical marijuana, taking a twice-daily dose of CBD oil. For 15 months, his CT scans showed no new tumor growth. When his cancer began to progress, Huff found success with the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab). “Something is working, a combination or whatever,” he said. “I’m just riding this wave as long as I can.”

Jerry Lampe
Peritoneal mesothelioma survivor

Jerry Lampe was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 1980, when conventional treatments for the rare cancer were limited. Doctors gave him only six to 12 months to live. A friend recommended Lampe check out the Immune Augmentation Therapy Clinic, an experimental cancer-care center in Freeport, Bahamas. He underwent daily injections of a protein mixture made from the blood of healthy donors, and today Lampe might be the country’s longest-living mesothelioma survivor. “There is no way to prove now what it did or didn’t do for me back then,” he said. “[The injections] built up my immune system, and I survived.”

Sissy Hoffman
Pleural mesothelioma survivor

Mesothelioma treatment pioneer Dr. David Sugarbaker performed Sissy Hoffman’s aggressive extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery in 1996. Hoffman continues to thrive today with a nutritious diet and regular workout routines of tai chi and water aerobics. It’s allowed her to take a trip of a lifetime to Italy and even snorkel, despite her having one lung. “Was it easy? No, it was not,” she said. “But I am stronger for it, and I have a deeper appreciation for life.”

Common Questions About Alternative Treatments for Mesothelioma

Can integrative or alternative treatments for mesothelioma help with symptoms?

Supplemental mesothelioma treatment options often prove useful for managing the severity of symptoms. Many patients turn to complementary therapies to help them tolerate the side effects of conventional mesothelioma treatments and improve their overall health and well-being.

Any patient interested in pursuing complementary treatments should speak with their doctor before using any new treatments to avoid possible negative interactions. Doctors and other members of a patient’s care team can make recommendations for suitable therapies and provide information on integrative oncology centers that include complementary medicine alongside traditional treatments.

How do complementary therapies help manage treatment side effects?

Complementary therapies are often effective for managing side effects associated with traditional mesothelioma treatments like chemo. The ability to tolerate conventional treatments through to the end can help increase the patient’s chances of surviving mesothelioma.

The types of complementary therapies a patient should pursue depend on the type and severity of their symptoms. Medical marijuana is often successful at managing nausea, while proper nutrition can improve overall wellbeing and a meditation practice can help alleviate stress. The best approach normally combines several alternative therapies to address symptoms along with overall physical and emotional well-being.

Are alternative, naturopathic and holistic medicine for mesothelioma the same?

These terms represent different approaches to mesothelioma treatment. Alternative medicine for mesothelioma refers to any treatment plan that forgoes standard medical treatments and uses only non-standard treatment methods with the intention to treat or cure the disease. This can include adopting a special diet instead of using cancer drugs.

Naturopathic remedies are a type of alternative medicine that uses herbs and other natural remedies meant to support the body so it can heal itself. Holistic medicine treats the whole person. This approach often includes multiple therapies like integrative medicine, which combines conventional mesothelioma treatments with complementary therapies.

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