When an individual is diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of the first things that will be discussed with that person (and often with their family or caregivers) are the options for treatment. Much of what is suggested will depend on the stage of the disease, the age of the afflicted person, and his or her overall health.
The most frequently recommended options might include surgery if the cancer is in its earlier stages. These surgeries may involve the removal of the pleura, the lung, and/or lymph nodes and the diaphragm as well. A patient must be in otherwise good health and not too elderly to be a candidate for surgery for mesothelioma.
Otherwise, chemotherapy is often recommended, sometimes in tandem with radiation therapy. These two standard treatments might also be used after surgery as “maintenance” treatments or to be sure that all the cancer was removed.
However, some people opt not to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation for one reason or another – often because of their debilitating side effects – and some are just not candidates for those treatments. Hence, many turn to what the medical world has deemed “alternative” treatments to conquer their cancer or, at least, to lessen the symptoms of their disease.
In addition, some patients choose to try a little of both. They will combine traditional treatments with alternative treatments, often – as was indicated previously – to help ease the side effects of chemo or radiation, which can sometimes be more difficult to handle than the disease itself.
What is an alternative treatment?
By definition, mesothelioma alternative treatment options include any treatments which the medical community deems as outside the acceptable or “traditional” treatments for the disease (i.e. chemo, radiation, and surgery).
Even though such treatments are not endorsed by most doctors, many mesothelioma patients have found them to be effective in combating symptoms of the disease and more and more doctors are recommending them as they become further educated about the perks of these options.
Many of these treatments are what most people would describe as “holistic” in nature. They’ll treat the patient not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Because they are considered “alternative” or “unconventional” and are generally not approved by doctors for the treatment of the disease, these therapies are usually not covered by most medical insurance policies.
However, as more cancer centers begin to put these treatments on their list of what’s available to patients at their facilities, more healthcare companies are reconsidering their position.
Most doctors will not discourage the use of such treatments as the comfort of the patient is their utmost concern. However, it is important to inform your doctor if you are considering such therapies while undergoing traditional treatment because there are some instances (such as with nutritional supplements) where the alternative therapy may interfere with the conventional treatment.
List of alternative treatments
Alternative treatments for mesothelioma include:
Acupuncture – The art of acupuncture has been used in China for centuries to relieve pain. Mesothelioma victims seek acupuncture treatments to decrease the intense pain often caused by the disease so that they may enjoy a better quality of life.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of long, thin needles into certain points on the body. Acupuncture specialists are familiar with these “acupoints” on the body and know where to insert the needles in order to control pain. Treatment may be done as often as deemed necessary.
Numerous studies have been conducted involving the use of acupuncture in conjunction with the use of chemotherapy. Many study participants reported that pain was lessened substantially with the use of acupuncture and some also reported a reduction in nausea. In many instances, the patients were able to eliminate some of their more traditional pain medications, including opioids.
Mesothelioma sufferers who used acupuncture noted that they also felt less fatigued and had better appetites, allowing them to maintain a healthier weight.
Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy involves the use of aromatic oils and plants and is generally used as a means of promoting relaxation. Therefore, the patient is relieved of some of the feelings of stress and anxiety association with a cancer diagnosis.
Some who use aromatherapy have also recognized a reduction in pain along with this lessening of anxiety, while others say that aromatherapy helps with the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
Biofeedback – The therapy known as biofeedback is used to make a connection between the patient’s body and mind and is recommended to ease chronic pain. By means of an electromyogram, patients learn to recognize the levels of muscle tension in various parts of their body and can eventually detect when this tension is on its way.
As a result, they can relieve the tension and the problems it causes, including pain. Once the specifics of biofeedback are learned, the patient can do this therapy on their own.
Healing and Therapeutic Touch Therapy – Healing Touch is an emerging therapy that’s been increasingly employed in the treatment of cancer patients, certainly not in the hopes of curing the disease but for the intention of making the victim feel a little better.
We all know about the power of hugs and the touch of another human, in general, but this therapy goes a few steps further. Developed by a registered nurse in 1989, healing touch therapy is said to work with a person’s energy field to support the body’s natural ability to heal. Specifically, it is generally used to help lessen nausea, fatigue, stress, and pain, and is said to prompt faster healing after surgery.
Herbs and Nutritional Supplements – Most often used as a complement to traditional therapies, the use of herbs and nutritional supplements have proven helpful to some mesothelioma patients.
Though they’re efficacy is not verified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some herbs and supplements claim to boost the immune system while others attest to slowing the progression of cancers such as mesothelioma. (Always tell your doctor which natural supplements or herbs you are considering before you take them so as not to interfere with regular treatment. Some herbs may reduce the potency of certain chemo drugs.)
Massage – Similarly, various forms of massage therapy are used by mesothelioma patients in order to reduce both pain and stress. Many maintain that massage is by far the best way for patients with terminal diseases to enjoy some time of relaxation.
Massage works by applying tension, pressure, and motion to the soft tissues of the body, which include tendons, muscles, ligaments, and lymphatic tissue. Massage may also aid is reducing nausea, which is often a side effect of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
Patients can see a specially-trained massage therapist for these treatments, which may also be administered by a chiropractor. As with acupuncture, massage can be performed as often as the patient wishes.
Naturotherapy – Naturotherapy is one of those options that is more often used in place of the more common treatments rather than along with them. This therapy includes the use of certain diets, vitamins and minerals, and lifestyle-based remedies.
It promotes the self-healing power of nature and aims to identify and remove the cause of the disease being treated rather than just treating the symptoms of the disease. Naturopaths may use acupuncture, botanical medicines, kinesiology, color therapy, and many similar treatments that consider the whole body.
Someone choosing to use naturopathy in conjunction with traditional treatments needs to inform their doctor as some natural remedies may interfere with chemotherapy or radiation.
TENS therapy – Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) involves the placing of electrodes on the nerve pathway, which then produce an electrical current that is said to stimulate the production of a morphine-like substance in the brain.
Hence, TENS therapy is primarily used to relieve chronic pain. Many mesothelioma patients seeking a fairly non-invasive form of palliative treatment have tried TENS therapy, with some success. Patients will feel a tingling or warming effect while undergoing the treatment, which is done at a doctor’s office or can even be done at home via a fairly inexpensive unit that can be purchased at most pharmacies or online.
Not everyone will benefit from TENS (or other alternative therapies) and those with certain heart conditions may not be eligible to use it as the electrical current may aggravate irregular heartbeats.
Meditation – Proponents of meditation claim that it increases the body’s immune function, but most patients use it to reduce stress and pain, not unlike massage and many other alternative therapies. Meditation has been an important part of many Eastern religions for more than 5,000 years and involves bringing about a healthy state of relaxation for the individual involved in meditating.
The mesothelioma patient who meditates is taught how to be aware of the mind and the attitudes that produce stress, and once the patient is taught the specifics of meditation by a professional, they can do it themselves and call upon a meditative state of mind whenever they deem it necessary.
Personal Training – Perhaps it seems ridiculous to consider hiring a personal trainer when one has cancer. However, staying as active as possible and moving a little every day is essential to maintaining a life with less pain and more energy. There are many personal trainers who are specifically trained to work with individuals who have terminal illnesses.
These professionals can help with stretching and staying limber, can suggest appropriate aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, etc.), and can also assist with strength training, especially for those who were bed-ridden for a while after surgery and need to regain their stamina and strength.
Inactivity should be avoided at all costs, doctors tell cancer patients, and those who are trained to work with terminal patients know how to gauge the patient’s ability and can recommend a suitable regimen. Often, cancer hospitals employ personal trainers.
Finding Alternative Treatment Clinics
For those who are being treated by oncologists with an open mind, the doctor himself/herself may suggest the patient take advantage of some of these therapies mentioned above. He or she may even be able to suggest clinics or hospitals close to the patient that offer some or all of these alternative options.
Other doctors will not promote these therapies and the patient who is set on trying some may need to do a little research on their own. It’s okay to turn to the internet but it’s necessary to seek information about whatever you find online before making a commitment.
There are plenty of proverbial “quacks” out there who are eager to accept money from cancer patients. Look for unbiased reviews and/or recommendations from other cancer patients or patients’ families or caregiver.