Some Hawai‘i patients may also seek out alternative remedies to complement or supplement the conventional cancer treatments prescribed by their oncologist and medical team. These include acupuncture, massage, yoga, biofeedback, and herbal remedies. Alternative and complementary therapies can promote relaxation and help ease the pain and nausea experienced by many mesothelioma patients. They may also help to alleviate some of the unpleasant side effects of conventional cancer treatments, such as radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There is no evidence to suggest that any of these alternative remedies have the power to cure cancer, but some Hawai‘i residents find them very effective as a way to cope with the symptoms of mesothelioma and improve their quality of life. However, these alternative remedies should not replace your medication or other conventional treatments, and you should not attempt any alternative remedies without carefully discussing them with your medical team.
Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice that originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. The best-known type of acupuncture involves putting thin, metallic needles into your skin at specific body points to improve health and well-being. However, there are many different acupuncture techniques. Some use sound waves, others use tiny electrical charges, and they may not use actual needles. There are many acupuncture practitioners in Hawai‘i.
Research has shown that acupuncture may be somewhat effective at reducing nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy. It can also relieve pain. Scientists do not fully understand how acupuncture works, but some researchers believe that it may assist in the release of endorphins in the body. It may also affect the way the body regulates blood pressure and flow.
Biofeedback is a relaxation technique that attempts to treat pain and insomnia by changing your heart rate, skin temperature, perspiration, or muscle tension. Essentially, biofeedback attempts to make the patient aware of bodily processes that are normally thought to be involuntary, so that the patient can gain some conscious control over these processes and diminish their level of pain.
The biofeedback therapist will hook you up to a monitor that is connected to your skin by electrodes. The monitor measures changes in your bodily functions, and will produce a tone or image to let you know when you achieve the desired results in modifying the targeted function. This process is repeated until you have “trained” yourself to use conscious thought to change your heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, etc.
Biofeedback was evaluated by an independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and found to be of possible benefit for treating chronic pain and insomnia. There is no scientific evidence to support claims that biofeedback can cure cancer, or even slow its progression, but it may help to improve quality of life for some people.
Some health professionals recommend massage as a way for cancer patients to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. There is some empirical evidence that massage can measurably decrease stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue among cancer patients. Most people do feel better after a massage, which at a minimum can help patients cope with the emotional stress of mesothelioma and the unpleasant side effects of most conventional treatments. Lomi lomi massage is a traditional part of the Hawai‘ian healing arts. Shiatsu is also popular in Hawai‘i.
There are a number of herbs, vitamins, and botanical supplements that are promoted for use by cancer patients. This includes a number of herbal remedies used in Chinese medicine, as well as other over-the-counter herbal and vitamin supplements sold in health food stores and drug stores. Some of these supplements may be helpful, and in some cases your doctor may even prescribe specific vitamin supplements to counteract some of the harmful side effects of chemotherapy or radiation.
However, it is very important to consult your doctor before trying any of these remedies. You should be particularly careful about using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements. While these may be “natural”, they are not necessarily safe. They may decrease the effectiveness of certain anti-cancer drugs, and they may actually be harmful when taken in large doses or in combination with other conventional drugs.
In addition to all of the physical symptoms that come with mesothelioma, the cancer can take a heavy toll on the mind and emotions as well. A cancer diagnosis is incredibly stressful for both the patient and his family and friends. Patients may go through periods of fear, rage, anxiety, grief, depression, or perhaps some combination of all of these feelings at once. These psychological and emotional aspects of cancer are often forgotten or disregarded in conventional medical treatment, but they are a very real part of the experience and certainly affect the patient’s well-being. Many cancer treatment centers have come to recognize this, and have begun to offer an increasing number of “mind-body” therapies to help people cope with cancer on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Depending on your personal belief system, some of the approaches that you may wish to explore include:
- Support groups
- Tai Chi or Qi Gong
- Visualization and guided imagery
- One-on-one psychological counseling
- Art or music therapy
When properly combined with conventional cancer treatments, alternative and complementary remedies like these can be an important way to cope with the symptoms of mesothelioma and improve or maintain the patient’s quality of life.
American Cancer Society, Conventional and Alternative Therapies.
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Complementary/Integrative Medicine Education Resources (CIMER). http://www.mdanderson.org/education-and-research/resources-for-professionals/clinical-tools-and-resources/cimer/index.html