Conventional mesothelioma treatments – like chemotherapy and radiation – typically come with many adverse effects and complications. In most cases, even these intense treatments cannot completely kill mesothelioma cells. The treatments mainly serve to prolong the lifespan of mesothelioma patients. Unfortunately, the prognosis for those diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma is not good and the typical survival rate is under 2 years and for many it is under a year. Therefore, some patients choose to forego conventional treatments that may have adverse affects and instead use natural and alternative methods for relieving pain and stress in the hope that they may extend life.
Alternative mesothelioma therapy is a type of treatment which is used instead of conventional treatment options. For example, a patient may use acupuncture instead of pain medications. Complementary mesothelioma therapy is the use of non-conventional treatments in conjunction with a conventional treatment. However, alternative therapy is often used as an umbrella term and also refers to complementary therapies.
There are many alternative treatments for mesothelioma. Most of these alternative treatments are meant to be palliative – reduce the symptoms associated with mesothelioma or conventional treatments. However, there are some alternative or natural treatments which have purportedly been curative – such as certain natural herbs or diets. Keep in mind that alternative treatment methods have not been highly studied or tested for their effectiveness. Most medical professionals will not recommend alternative treatments curatively, particularly when conventional treatment options are still available to the patient.
Many of the alternative therapies focus on relieving pain because pain has a direct bearing on the quality of life. Given that the mesothelioma diagnoses means most patients have a poor prognosis, managing the pain is important for the survival time. Those patients who are best able to manage pain have other life characteristics that support the alternative therapies for pain like coping ability, social support and personality traits that enable the patient to manage their disease and not let it destroy all quality of life.1
Choosing a Treatment for Mesothelioma
The most important decision a patient with mesothelioma will need to make is which treatment course to use. As mesothelioma is not usually diagnosed until the later stages when it is unresectable, the prognosis is usually grim. Conventional mesothelioma treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy may help prolong life but, in some cases, the estimated prolongation is just months. For some patients, the side effects of the treatments are not worth the potential benefits because they face spending their remaining life suffering through them knowing that life will not be extended for any significant period of time. They may instead choose alternative mesothelioma treatments instead. Alternative mesothelioma treatments can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life while the cancer runs its course.
It is very important that patients discuss with their doctors treatment options, treatment risks, and how treatments may change prognosis. Every case of mesothelioma is different and requires an individualized approach. Further, every patient responds differently to treatment so there is no way of giving a completely sure prognosis of what to expect. Only after patients fully understand the implications of treatment options will they be able to make an educated decision about what treatment method is best for them.
Types of Alternative Mesothelioma Treatments
Acupuncture: Acupuncture is now commonly used as a palliative treatment for cancer symptoms and cancer treatment side effects. The process involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin at certain points on the body. Acupuncture has proven very effective in relieving pain as well as stress and depression. There is a long research history supporting acupuncture for use in relieving nausea too though Western medical practitioners have not been quick to embrace it as an alternative treatment.2 It is growing in acceptance though. In fact, many insurance providers cover the costs of acupuncture as an alternative mesothelioma treatment.
Massage: Massage therapy is another palliative alternative treatment for mesothelioma. Aside from relieving stress and pain, massage therapy can have numerous other health benefits including promoting healthy blood flow in the body and stimulating the nervous system.
Health Supplements and Dietary Changes: There are now many herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other supplements which are purported to help treat cancers such as mesothelioma. Some of these supplements may be curative by either attacking cancer cells or improving immune health so the body can fight against the disease better. Other supplements are palliative and may relieve symptoms such as inflammation or pain.
There are many cancer diets which are based around the same idea as the supplements. These cancer diets will incorporate foods which have cancer-fighting properties or reduce symptoms. A macrobiotic diet is one of the most commonly used cancer diets.
TENS Therapy: Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy is like acupuncture in that it works by stimulating certain pressure points of the body to relieve pain, stress, or other symptoms associated with mesothelioma or its treatments. Unlike acupuncture though, TENS uses electrodes that give the body a small electric shock. TENS therapy has been approved by the FDA and thus is covered by most insurance companies as an alternative treatment for mesothelioma.
Homeopathy: Homeopathy uses natural products like herbs to cure health conditions. Homeopathy can be a valuable complimentary therapy for patients with mesothelioma because it uses only all-natural products which work by enhancing the body’s ability to fight cancer and its symptoms, and the symptoms of cancer treatment.The principle of homeopathy is that the body has self-healing potential and that can include the ability to manage disease symptoms. The most common therapeutics used include botanicals, minerals, vitamins and homeopathy remedies.3 Note that some homeopathic herbs have been proven to be effective against some cancers, like the bark of the Taxus plant.
These are not all of the alternative options that can benefit people dealing with asbestos cancer. Other types of treatments include aromatherapy and biofeedback therapy. Most of these treatments can also be used as complementary treatments and often are used in conjunction with conventional treatments like surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
1 Farahani, M. A. and Assari, S. Relationship Between Pain and Quality of Life (2010) Handbook of Disease Burdens and Quality of Life Measures, Part 3,3.9, 3933-3953, DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-78665-0_229.
2 Larkey, L. K., Greenlee H. and Mehl-Madrona. Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Cancer Prevention. (2008) Fundamentals of Cancer Prevention, Verlag, Berling, Heidelberg: Springer, 158-189.
3 Dasgupta, A. (2010) Homeopathic Medicine: Principle, Efficacy, and Toxicity, in Herbal Supplements: Efficacy, Toxicity, Interactions with Western Drugs, and Effects on Clinical Laboratory Tests (eds A. Dasgupta and C. A. Hammett-Stabler), John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA. doi: 10.1002/9780470910108.ch8