Note: This blog was originally published on April 23, 2019 and was updated on January 19, 2023 with more information about alternative mesothelioma treatment options, including types of alternative treatments and how they can help patients with cancers like mesothelioma.
Standard treatment for mesothelioma includes surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, tumor treating fields, and radiation. As clinical trials continue, others like CAR T-cell therapy, gene therapy and oncolytic virus therapy may join the list.
Medicinal therapies are not the only way to help people with mesothelioma cancer. Experts at many cancer centers are prioritizing alternative treatment methods, such as massages, yoga, acupuncture, and more. Patients may even try alternative methods such as medical marijuana to reduce anxiety and tension, an effort to improve quality of life.
These all encompass the idea of alternative treatments for cancers like mesothelioma. They are best when combined with scientifically proven approaches like chemotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery. In this blog, Mesothelioma Guide explains the power of alternative treatments for mesothelioma and lists some of the top options patients are trying and doctors are recommending.
What Are Alternative Treatments for Mesothelioma?
Alternative treatments or alternative medicine is used to describe therapies not usually offered by health care providers, such as the top mesothelioma cancer hospitals. Most of these therapies can be done at home or are add-on options for patients receiving outpatient care at facilities near their home.
However, Mayo Clinic reports that each study is moving doctors and other health care providers to include them “in treatment plans alongside the standard treatments. It’s an approach that providers sometimes call ‘integrative medicine.'”
While alternative cancer treatments may not cure your cancer or even send it into remission, it can help with anxiety and fear. The hope is your quality of life improves and you gain more confidence in the ongoing fight with cancer. You’ll ideally cope better with the signs and symptoms of your cancer diagnosis and the standard treatments, including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain, sleeping issues and more.
Examples of Alternative Cancer Treatments
There are many different types of alternative cancer treatment, all of which can be used for people with mesothelioma. These can be incorporated with surgery, immunotherapy and chemotherapy into a plan for multimodal mesothelioma treatment.
While these are all generally safe when used with our guidance below (including getting professional help when appropriate), these alternative treatments cannot directly treat cancer in the way surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy can. They cannot cure patients of their cancer. These treatments are mostly to reduce stress, anxiety, pain and other challenges impacting quality of life.
- Acupuncture — During acupuncture treatment, a professional inserts tiny needles into the skin of patients. The needles are applied to precise points in the body to relieve pain. Acupuncture can also reduce the risk of nausea from chemotherapy. Acupuncture should be performed by a professional and not on your own. Ask your doctor or medical team at your hospital if they offer acupuncture or for recommendations on where to go.
- Aromatherapy — Aromatherapy is a relaxation technique utilizing fragrance oils. It provides a calming sensation and can reduce stress or anxiety. Oils with infused scents like lavender can be applied during massages or added to bath water. Aromatherapy can be performed by a professional or on your own.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy performed by a mental health counselor or therapist. The mental health professional helps you respond to adverse situations and feelings in a more positive manner. One way CBT can help is with overcoming sleep issues. A behavioral therapist may help you replace thoughts of anxiety or behaviors that disrupt normal sleep cycles with thoughts and habits to promote sleep. If you’re interested in CBT, ask your primary doctor or cancer specialist for recommendations.
- Exercise — Exercise is one of the best ways to improve mental health and make the body stronger to fight cancer. Exercise can strengthen our immune systems and make them more active when cancer is present. Exercise can also make our bodies stronger and more able to recover from surgery or withstand chemotherapy. Examples of exercise for cancer treatment includes light walking or jogging, light weightlifting, or even yoga. Mesothelioma Guide has exercise, diet and nutrition tips for mesothelioma patients.
- Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy — Hypnosis is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a deep state of concentration.” During hypnotherapy, a therapist talks to you in a gentle voice and helps you relax. The therapist then talks about controlling your stress or reducing anxiety. The intent is to help your mind focus on these goals without the distractions of everything else in the world. Hypnosis therapy is effective for people struggling with anxiety and stress, along with anticipatory cancer treatment side effects, such as nausea or vomiting from chemotherapy if this treatment caused those side effects in the past. Hypnotherapy is safe when performed by a certified therapist, not from someone uncertified or a loved one.
- Massage — Massage is one of the most popular forms of alternative treatment for cancer. In fact, it’s a popular treatment in general to soothe consistent pain and reduce stress. People often get massages as a reprieve from the challenges of work, school or home life. During a massage, a licensed professional kneads your body to relieve muscle tension. The kneading can be light in pressure or what’s called a deep-tissue massage, which is when the professional adds more pressure. Many cancer centers have a massage therapist available to patients. There are some instances when a massage is not recommended — such as if you have low blood count. Massage therapists should also avoid surgical scars or areas where radiation treatment was applied. In most cases, mesothelioma patients will receive what’s called an “oncology massage”, which is light in pressure and avoids specific areas related to treatment. According to Piedmont Healthcare, oncology massages involve slow, steady movements.
- Meditation — Medication is similar to hypnosis therapy. It’s a state of deep mental concentration, usually focusing on one object or one action, such as your breathing. Most forms of meditation begin with focusing on your deep breathing. You can also focus on a sound or idea, such as the sound of your breathing or even the idea of trying to breathe deeply and consistently. Meditation can reduce stress and anxiety. Many meditation professionals talk about “centering yourself” as a way of relieving the stress of your life. Meditation is safe and you can do it on your own. This guided meditation on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website is a good place for mesothelioma patients to begin. We’ve also included a YouTube video below from Johns Hopkins Cancer Center with a meditation session for cancer patients.
- Music therapy — Music therapy is another type of alternative cancer treatment you can do on your own or in a group session at a cancer hospital. Music therapy involves listening to music, playing instruments and writing lyrics, all with the intent of taking your mind off cancer symptoms, cancer pain, and anxiety or stress. Many of the top mesothelioma cancer centers have licensed music therapy professionals available for sessions.
- Tai chi — Tai chi is a type of exercise that combines deep breathing and gentle movements. It’s a combination of meditation and exercise. Since the movements are slow, tai chi is generally safe for cancer patients and doesn’t require much strength. We still recommend speaking to your doctor or another medical professional before beginning tai chi as a relaxation technique for cancer.
- Yoga — Yoga combines elements of a a few other alternative cancer treatments. Yoga incorporates deep breathing, stretching and exercising, which is a pairing of exercise and meditation. During yoga, you’ll put your body into various positions that require bending, twisting and stretching. You’ll often hold your body in these positions, which improves muscle strength. There are a few types of yoga. The ones for cancer patients can reduce stress and anxiety. They also improve your strength. Many cancer hospitals provide yoga in group settings to patients. Ask your doctor about offerings at the hospital or for outpatient recommendations before choosing your own yoga class or instructor. You may need a specific type of yoga due to post-surgery issues or expected treatment. This ensures your safety.
Marijuana for Mesothelioma: Another Alternative Treatment Option
Marijuana might be the most controversial alternative treatment for cancer patients. In the medical form, marijuana can help people with mesothelioma reduce stress and anxiety. Marijuana cannot directly treat mesothelioma or cure patients of their cancer.
Each year, more states either legalize marijuana use, decriminalize marijuana laws, or pass laws allowing for medical use. Doctors also are more supportive now of medical marijuana use to reduce pain and anxiety.
“Marijuana helps with pain and helps with appetite,” said Dr. Raja Flores, the head of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Thoracic Surgery Department. “If you have mesothelioma and you’re headed toward your end stage, it can help with increased appetite.”
Some popular forms of marijuana for cancer patients are oils and edibles.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there are nearly a dozen ongoing research projects totaling $3 million in funding to investigate cannabis as an alternative cancer treatment. The reason for the analysis is to provide an alternative for pain relief to patients who otherwise would receive opioids, which are more addictive than marijuana.
Similar to the other listed alternative mesothelioma treatments, marijuana and cannabis cannot kill mesothelioma cells or directly treat cancer. Mesothelioma Guide has much more information about marijuana for mesothelioma.
Why More Cancer Patients Are Using Alternative Mesothelioma Treatment
According to a study done by experts at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, approximately one-third of cancer patients “are already embracing complementary and alternative medicines.”
Dr. Nina Sanford, who works at the center, reported the study’s findings in a YouTube video. She said therapies like yoga, meditation and acupuncture help improve mood and decrease stress, two of the primary reasons cancer patients turn to these practices. Sanford also said unorthodox mesothelioma treatments could provide a balance to traditional methods and inspire patients to attend their radiation and chemotherapy sessions.
“There’s a wide range (of these alternative medicines),” Sanford said. “They include things like herbal supplements, special diets. … I’ve always found that these practices certainly can be helpful. I would never recommend that my patients do this instead of engaging in conventional cancer care.”
Example of Alternative Treatment Helping a Mesothelioma Patient
A report from the Lexington, Kentucky, NBC television affiliate about the University of Kentucky’s Integrative Medicine and Health Clinic included an interview with a mesothelioma patient, Steven Konopka.
At the facility, he and other cancer patients participate in music and art therapy, acupuncture and yoga, in addition to receiving oncology massages. Each of these alternative mesothelioma treatment methods is aimed to diminish pain and tension caused by their specific cancer.
The strategy is working to reduce pain from Konopka’s mesothelioma, which he first noticed due to pain in his left side. In the video report, Konopka points to his rib cage area. Discomfort in this location is typically a symptom of pleural mesothelioma, which forms in the protective membrane that lines the lungs and chest cavity.
These alternative mesothelioma treatments also are enticing to patients because, like for Konopka’s mesothelioma, they decrease pain caused by the cancer.
“I guess some of the (chemotherapy) drugs have side effects,” Konopka said, “and I was having trouble with joints, muscles. And I think the massage really helped there.”
Why Mesothelioma Cancer Centers Should Offer Integrative Treatment Plans With Alternative Options
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reports that around 30% of cancer patients withhold information about their alternative medicine uses from their doctors. Some herbal supplements and diets may not combine well with chemotherapy drugs, which is why patients should disclose all information to their doctors.
For Konopka and others at the University of Kentucky clinic, there is no incentive to hide their nonstandard treatments since the facility offers them. If medical centers followed the University of Kentucky clinic in providing on-site treatments, then there would be little risk of a toxic mix. Plus, cancer patients would have an improved quality of life during their treatment.
“In a large sense, it helps patients have some control,” said Dr. Connie Jennings, of the University of Kentucky clinic. “Once a patient is admitted into the hospital, and (they) put the gown on, (they’ve) just kind of lost control.”
The patient advocates at Mesothelioma Guide understand how difficult living with mesothelioma can be. Our website offers numerous resources regarding alternative mesothelioma treatment options (such as virotherapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy) and pain management for mesothelioma. For more information about novel therapies, please contact our nurse advocate, Karen Ritter, RN at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- NIH to investigate minor cannabinoids and terpenes for potential pain-relieving properties. National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/news/press/09192019?nav=tw. Accessed: 12/10/19.
- Alternative cancer treatments: 11 options to consider. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cancer-treatment/in-depth/cancer-treatment/art-20047246. Accessed: 01/19/2023.
- Meditations. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/diagnosis-treatment/symptom-management/integrative-medicine/multimedia/meditations. Accessed: 01/19/2023.
- Benefits of oncology massage. Piedmont Healthcare. Retrieved from: https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/benefits-of-oncology-massage. Accessed: 01/19/2023.
- Making Something Old … New Again. LEX18. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRThv0kvRas. Accessed: 04/23/2019.
- Complementary and alternative medicines: Are they good for cancer patients? University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvadgILgkxw. Accessed: 04/23/2019.
Sources & Author
Sources & Author