Mesothelioma is a rare but aggressive cancer that is almost exclusively linked to an exposure to the building and insulating material, asbestos. During the course of manufacturing, installing, or break-down of asbestos-containing materials, a fine particulate – composed of microscopic and needle-like fibers – may be released into the surrounding air. After being inhaled or ingested, those fibers can embed themselves deep into the mesothelium, which is a membranous lining that protects the lungs, heart and stomach, and which also lines the thoracic and abdominal cavities. The fibers can cause irritation, lung scarring (asbestosis) and eventual malignancy, known as malignant mesothelioma.
One of the most unfortunate hallmarks of mesothelioma is the fact that it is often asymptomatic, remaining undiagnosed for an astonishing 20 to 50 years. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, it has usually reached Stage III or Stage IV, and is often not receptive to traditional treatment. Curative surgery is only feasible in Stage I mesothelioma, and such early detection is very rare. In later stages, surgery may be attempted to remove some of the cancer, usually in combination with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Clinical studies have shown that a trimodal approach to mesothelioma treatment is generally most effective, but most patients still have a life expectancy of only 18 months after diagnosis. In later stages, many mesothelioma patients find that the benefits of palliative chemotherapy and radiotherapy do not outweigh the side effects and discomfort that accompany these treatments, and therefore opt not to pursue conventional methods of cancer treatment.
For these reasons, homeopathic and other alternative treatments have been proven popular with mesothelioma patients. Alternative approaches can be used as stand-alone treatments to reduce the pain and symptoms of the disease, or as complementary therapy intended to help ease the side effects of more conventional therapies.
Some of the most popular alternative therapies include massage, yoga, acupuncture and acupressure (including reflexology), traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), use of select herbs as a nebulizer, nutritional regimens, supplements, meditation or hypnosis, and aromatherapy. TENS therapy, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is also becoming popular. This therapy involves no drug interactions, is non-invasive, and has no known harmful side effects. In TENS therapy, pain relief is achieved by attaching electrodes to specific areas on the patient's skin and administering an electrical current. TENS is believed by some to stimulate the body's natural production of endorphins, which are analgesics.
Acupuncture, similarly, is used to relieve pain, as well as to ameliorate some of the side effects, including nausea, commonly experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. The same is true of meditation and hypnosis, which some patients claim can help them alleviate their pain. Other therapies, such as aromatherapy, massage and practicing the ancient exercise of yoga, help primarily by relaxing the patient and improving their overall mind-body wellness. Herbal treatments are gaining in popularity and efficacy as well, as they become better understood, and evidence is emerging that certain herbs, such as licorice root, American ginseng and oldenlandia can ameliorate advanced lung cancer symptoms. Nutritional approaches, such as supplements, herbal teas or tinctures, and a change in diet can help improve the patient's overall health as well as targeting both specific symptoms of mesothelioma and the side effects of its conventional treatments.
An increasing number of physicians and oncologists are recognizing the value of alternative therapies, and integrating them into the treatment plan. Each treatment program is individually tailored, in order to best address the individual patient's needs, symptoms, advancement of disease, and wishes. Integrative medicine, as the combination of traditional cancer treatments and more holistic approaches has come to be known, is considered by many health care professionals to be the best path to superlative patient care. Indeed, the incorporation of proven alternative therapies into a standard medical treatment regimen can yield more satisfying results for patients and their caregivers than can reliance upon conventional modalities alone, and it is likely that future preferred mesothelioma treatment methods will be integrative in nature.