People with mesothelioma often turn to complementary and alternative therapies to help treat the cancer and its effects on the mind and body. People who integrate these approaches, including nutritional therapy and yoga, into treatment plans often increase their survival rates.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term most widely used to describe health care approaches that originate outside of mainstream medicine. You may have seen this terminology before, but may not know what the words “complementary” and “alternative” mean in the context of health care.
- “Complementary” refers to approaches used in combination with mainstream medicine.
- “Alternative” refers to approaches used in place of mainstream medicine.
Alternative medicine is not common. Most people combine non-mainstream therapies with conventional medicine. This complementary approach is also called integrative medicine.
Integrative oncology programs have sprung up throughout the U.S. in recent years. These programs unite clinically proven complementary therapies with conventional medicine to treat the whole person, not just the disease.
Although complementary and alternative treatments don’t promise a cure for mesothelioma, in some cases they can increase survival rates while alleviating some of the pain and suffering associated with the cancer.
Ancient cultures have used some of the following approaches for hundreds of years to treat illnesses and other maladies. Their use as modern-day palliatives for diseases like mesothelioma is often based on historical or anecdotal, rather than empirical, evidence. And yet many people swear by these natural alternatives and point to friends and family members who, they say, have greatly benefited from their use.
Fast Fact: Approximately 70 percent of people with cancer use complementary therapies.
Body-based therapies use various techniques to heal pain and discomfort throughout the body. The primary body-based therapies used in cancer care include TENS therapy, chiropractic care, therapeutic massage and acupuncture.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a therapy that relieves pain with a low-voltage electrical current. TENS therapy, along with therapeutic massage, is often administered during chiropractic care sessions. All three therapies may help relieve pain and reduce stress in people with cancer.
Acupuncture studies show the therapy is helpful to people with cancer. It can effectively reduce pain and adverse reactions to radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Research also shows that acupuncture can reduce the occurrence of chemotherapy-related vomiting.
Though less widely known in the United States, acupressure is a form of self-massage that acupuncture is based off of. Similar points throughout the body are used in both acupressure and acupuncture, but no needles are involved in acupressure. Clinical trials show that acupressure can relieve some cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, including nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anxiety and pain.
A number of cancer centers that specialize in mesothelioma treatment offer complementary therapies through integrative oncology programs. Now that integrative health care is increasing in popularity, these centers are found throughout the country. The programs offer a variety of complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation and nutritional counseling. The goal is to offer therapies that treat the whole person — not just the disease — to boost quality of life and overall health.
Complete Healing Systems
The most commonly used complete healing systems in CAM include Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda.
The Chinese developed TCM, and practitioners have used it for thousands of years to help treat cancer. The majority of cancer clinical trials conducted in China for the past 100 years combined mainstream medicine with TCM. They found that certain TCM herbs, mind-body techniques, dietary changes and acupuncture can help people with cancer.
Ayurveda originated in India, and for thousands of years it too has helped people with cancer feel better. Ayurvedic doctors treat cancer with surgery, herbal medicine, dietary changes, bodily-cleansing therapies and lifestyle changes.
Emotional Effects Therapies
Emotional effects therapies include techniques that positively impact the emotional health and well-being of a person. This category includes meditation, counseling and pet therapy.
Meditation techniques can help people cope with anxiety, depression and pain caused by cancer. Whether spiritually-focused or not, meditation may help people attain a better outlook, and this can greatly reduce stress. Ask your doctor if any meditation education programs, such as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction technique, are available in your area.
Counseling is a therapy that helps people facing cancer better cope with the experience. During sessions, counselors help people process their emotions with constructive and effective techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Many cancer centers offer free counseling services to patients.
Pet therapy is quite simple: It involves spending time with animals with the goal of improving the mood of a patient. Dogs and cats are most commonly present at pet therapy sessions, but nearly any animal can bring temporary comfort to someone dealing with cancer. Examples of pet therapy include watching fish swim or petting a cat. Ask your treatment center if pet therapy is available.
Energy therapies strive to produce a state of balance and well-being within a person. The primary energy therapies used by people facing cancer include music and sound therapy, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu.
Music therapy involves listening to, playing, singing and talking about music in the company of a professionally trained music therapist. The therapy can reduce stress, support well-being and may improve healing or help reduce severity of symptoms. Sound energy therapy is similar in that patients listen to music or create it themselves, but specific instruments or tones are used to promote a state of relaxation.
Therapeutic Touch and Reiki are similar healing modalities that theoretically send healing energy from the hands of a healer to a patient’s body. People who receive these therapies report deep states of peace and relaxation during and after the therapy. Some claim lasting effects on the perception of stress.
Jin Shin Jyutsu is similar to acupressure. Energy pathways and pressure points are used to clear blockages and balance energy within the body. Trained practitioners can administer the therapy and teach patients how to do Jin Shin Jyutsu at home. One mesothelioma patient found the therapy was effective at relieving fatigue and easing digestion problems caused by chemotherapy.