Alternative treatment options might be right for your mesothelioma diagnosis if you are not a candidate for standard treatments, choose not to elect those options or if you are looking to supplement your current treatment plan. Alternative medicine is any practice that is considered non-conventional, which may include the use of acupuncture, massage, herbs, vitamins, teas, amino acids and other natural nontoxic supplements. A 2007 National Health Interview Survey reported that nearly 4 out of 10 adults used alternative cancer therapy in the past 12 months.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops from cells of the mesothelium, the protective lining that covers many internal organs of the body. This type of cancer mostly affects the lungs, heart or abdomen. Doctors diagnose an estimated 3,000 cases annually in the U.S.
Although prognosis varies from person to person, about 40 percent of patients with mesothelioma survive the first year after diagnosis. By the second year, about 20 percent of patients survive and by the third year, that number drops to 8 percent.
The primary cause of mesothelioma is persistent exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral once highly coveted for its heat and chemical resistance. When products containing asbestos become worn or damaged overtime, they release tiny, microscopic fibers into the air that are inhaled through the mouth and nose.
About 70-80 percent of all cases are traced to job-related asbestos exposure in construction sites, industrial settings, shipyards, factories, automobile shops and old houses.
Over decades, these fibers cause biological changes that result in inflammation, scarring and genetic damage. After the damage is done, the cancer can take anywhere from 20-50 years to fully develop.
The best way to prevent asbestos exposure is knowledge and awareness. You should be aware of the locations where asbestos is typically found, especially when remodeling old homes. If you’re not sure, assume there is asbestos in the area and contact a licensed asbestos abatement company that can take samples from materials to determine whether they contain asbestos. Do not attempt to remove asbestos; only licensed professionals know how to remove the contaminated materials safely.
Common Alternative Treatments
Given the rarity of mesothelioma, scientific research on the effects of alternative treatments, specifically for this type of cancer, is limited. However, the most common alternative treatments used by mesothelioma patients include:
Body-based Therapies: This type of treatment involves the manipulation or movement of one or more body parts to help relieve pain of the bones and joints, the circulatory and lymphatic systems of the body and the soft tissues.
- Acupuncture. This is one of the most widely accepted alternative therapies for the treatment of asbestos-related cancers. A 2006 analysis of 11 studies reports that acupuncture can reduce vomiting in patients who have undergone chemotherapy. Evidence also supports that acupuncture can relieve chest pain — a symptom felt by 64 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients.
- Chiropractic Care. Mesothelioma patients have reported that chiropractic care has relieved pain from headaches, tension and stress . It also relieves shortness of breath, the most common symptom of asbestos-related cancers.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Therapy. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this treatment involves low-voltage electrical current to relieve pain, a common symptom of asbestos-related cancers, especially around the tumor area.
Natural Medicines: There are different types of natural medicines that aim to relieve pain and other symptoms associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis. Some of the top natural medicines used by mesothelioma patients which have undergone at least some level of scientific study include:
- Celandine. Celandine can be used as an extract, tincture or tea to boost the immune system and inhibit tumor growth. A 1993 report from the Institute of Oncology in Ljubljana, Slovenia, explains how a women suffering from multiple metastases in the lungs, similar to pleural mesothelioma, underwent chemotherapy and celandine, resulting in complete remission.
- Marshmallow Root. This is often prescribed for a persistent cough, a symptom reported by 36 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients.
- Arsenicum Album. This is a homeopathic solution prepared from multiple dilutions of arsenic trioxide that is effective for soothing tight chest muscles and relaxing the bronchioles, beneficial for those suffering from chest pain.
If Alternative Treatment Isn’t For You
For someone who is not interested in alternative treatments, the traditional therapies, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, still apply. These are considered potentially curative options and should only be performed by experienced mesothelioma specialists.
Dr. David Sugarbaker, director of the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is internationally known for his treatment of pleural mesothelioma with an extensive extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery, which involves removing the entire cancerous lung.
Anyone who is facing peritoneal mesothelioma can turn to Dr. Paul Sugarbaker, director of the Center for Surgical Oncology at the Washington Cancer Institute. He is known for treating this type of cancer with surgery and heated chemo to the abdominal cavity and its organs, known as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
Whatever choice you make, you should always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor, especially if you are supplementing traditional treatment with alternative options.
Kaitlyn Teabo is a writer for The Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in writing, cancer research and emerging scientific technology to educate the mesothelioma community about asbestos and its related diseases.
 Acherman Y.I.; Welch L.S.; Bromley C.M.; and Sugarbaker P.H. (2003). Clinical presentation of peritoneal mesothelioma. Tumori, 89(3), 269-73.
 American Cancer Society. (2011, May 11). Acupuncture. Retrieved from: www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Acupuncture.asp
 Barnes, Patricia M., and Bloom, Barbara. (2008, Dec. 10). Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States,
2007. Retrieved from http://nccam.nih.gov/sites/nccam.nih.gov/files/news/nhsr12.pdf
 Ezzo J.M.; Richardson M.A.; Vickers A.; Allen C.; Dibble S.L.; Issell B.F.; … Zhang G. (2006, April 19). Acupuncture-point stimulation for
chemotherapy-induced nausea or vomiting. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2.
 Stabuc B, and Benedicic, D. (1996). Ukrain with chemotherapy in malignant melanoma (case report). Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research,
22(3-5), 231-233. Retrieved from http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/8899337