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Helping Mesothelioma Patients with Alternative Medicine


In 2007, four out of every 10 adults turned to complementary or alternative medicine. Since then, these alternative options have continued to grow in popularity – especially for patients with cancers such as mesothelioma.

Many oncologists work to incorporate alternative therapies in their patients’ treatment plans thanks to their ability to gently help restore the body and relieve side effects. Used alone or in conjunction with traditional therapies, alternative treatments have been lauded by doctors and mesothelioma survivors alike.

Alternative therapies can range from simple activities like deep-breathing exercises (which composed 12.7 percent of all alternative healing techniques in 2007) to more intricate lifestyle changes such as vegetarianism.

The therapies often lie at the heart of a holistic healing philosophy. Generally speaking, alternative treatments are designed to restore wellbeing to the entire body. Most of these alternative medicine practices work to treat both the physical symptoms of mesothelioma as well as the mental and emotional side effects.

Many of the symptoms and side effects that alternative therapies are most effective at treating are also symptoms of mesothelioma. Pain, joint stiffness, anxiety and depression have all been effectively managed by alternative therapies, and most mesothelioma patients will encounter at least one of these during their illness.

Why Choose Alternative Medicine?

Unlike their traditional counterparts, non-traditional medicines are rarely associated with side effects. If side effects do arise, they tend to be extremely mild.

Mesothelioma patients often favor alternative medicines because their cancer symptoms have so drastically reduced their quality of life that they do not wish to risk any additional complications. The gentle nature of alternative treatments makes them ideal for elderly patients who are too frail to cope with vomiting, diarrhea and similar side effects.

On average, holistic medical practices are less expensive than traditional therapies. Some hospitals offer therapeutic massage on site, while various other treatments may also be covered by insurance.

Alternative therapies are also more easily accessible than typical mesothelioma treatments. Only a handful of treatment centers in the United States are experienced in developing highly advanced mesothelioma surgeries or chemotherapy regimens for the aggressive tumors. On the other hand, there are thousands of yoga studios, massage parlors and acupuncture practitioners across the nation that patients can visit without even leaving their hometown.

Choosing alternative therapy does not mean completely rejecting traditional therapy; many mesothelioma patients combine the two.

Natural products such as vitamin and mineral supplements can enhance the body’s response to traditional treatment, while techniques such as yoga or acupuncture can reduce a patient’s need for pharmaceutical painkillers after surgery. In situations where a mesothelioma patient undergoes both types of therapy, the alternative procedures are referred to as complementary therapy.

Holistic Approaches to Treating Mesothelioma

Alternative therapies can be categorized into five different types:

• Alternative medical systems (i.e. homepathy)
• Biologically based therapies (i.e. probiotic or immune system supplements)
• Manipulative body-based therapies (i.e. massage, chiropractic manipulation or acupuncture for pain)
• Mind-body therapies (i.e. visualization and meditation to help reduce anxiety)
• Energy healing therapies (i.e. Reiki massage)

These treatments may also be categorized as either provider-based (i.e. acupuncture) or self-conducted (i.e meditation).

As of 2007, natural supplements were the most commonly used type of alternative treatment for any disease. Some of the most popular general supplements were fish oil, omega-3, flaxseed and ginseng.

Supplementation is fairly prevalent among mesothelioma patients. Vitamins A, C, D and K have been shown to increase a patient’s immune system and ability to reverse asbestos cancer. Supplements of garlic, ginger, astragalus, cat’s claw and other natural herbs have also been successfully used by mesothelioma patients.

Deep breathing and meditation were the second and third most common types of alternative treatments, used by 12.7 and 9.4 percent of all patients, respectively.

Even though food may not be thought of as therapy, dietary changes are also an effective alternative way of managing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma patients are encouraged to adopt a nutrient-dense, whole-foods-based diet while battling the disease. Specific food recommendations may also help manage side effects caused by traditional treatments (i.e. a low-fiber diet for diarrhea, a high-fiber diet for constipation, or a mild-tasting diet for nausea).

As with any type of mesothelioma treatment, alternative therapies should always be discussed with a patient’s oncologist before they are included in an official treatment plan.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

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