Mesothelioma: A Cancer On The Rise
Mesothelioma is malignant cancer that although relatively rare is increasing in incidence. Cancer develops when the mesothelial cells lining the cavities and internal organs of the chest and abdomen become malignant. There are four primary places the mesothelial cells may develop into mesothelioma, with the first being the most common: pleura (lungs), peritoneum (abdomen), pericardium (heart), and tunica vaginal (testes).1
If you’re wondering what mesothelial cells are in the first place, these cells function on a practical level to provide a slippery, non-adhesive surface for the contents of the chest and abdomen. This affords the organs in both these areas a level of protection. The mesothelial cells also play a key role in immunological function, allowing for the transport of fluid and cells related to antigen presentation, coagulation, tissue repair, and inflammatory protection.2
What Causes Mesothelioma?
The most common cause of mesothelioma is commercial exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is the name for a collection of industrial mineral fibers used commercially in the 1970’s. There is a very clear connection clinically between exposure to asbestos fiber(s) and mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers, once inhaled, can get entrapped in the lower lungs and cause a state of chronic inflammation. The pleura covering the lungs will attempt to create an inflammatory state to get the fibers out of the body. However, these fibers are not easily excreted from the body and a chronic state of inflammation results in hyperplasia (abnormal/excessive cell growth). This may then lead to malignancy.3
Although asbestos has been banned in many countries since the 1970’s and 80’s, rates of mesothelioma have continued to rise. Many countries still continue to use asbestos, and extraction of the minerals comprising asbestos occurs in open pits, allowing for these minerals to become airborne and continue contributing to environmental exposure.3
While both occupational and environmental exposure to asbestos is the most common cause, about 20-30% of mesothelioma cases are not likely to be due to asbestos. Other proposed causes of mesothelioma include:
Previous simian virus 40 infection
Other environmental exposures, and radiation exposure.
Inheritance of the germline BAP1 mutation may also predispose one to develop mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a fairly difficult cancer to treat. Most conventional treatments are quite ineffective and no treatment has been found to significantly improve survival. There is a latency period (30+ years) between being exposed to asbestos or other potentially hazardous materials, and the development of mesothelioma, so the cancer is expected to increase and peak between 2015-2030.2
Conventional treatment for mesothelioma includes primarily surgical and pharmacological (chemotherapy) treatment, as well as radiation. Because mesothelioma is difficult to detect, many cancers are not diagnosed until they are stage III or IV, which means treatment is much less effective. When the cancer is caught in stage I or II, often times surgery can be used to remove the tumors.2
Complementary and Integrative Treatment Options Specific to Mesothelioma
Unfortunately, because mesothelioma is so rare, there are not many complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) clinical trials in this population. However, there are some benefits with CAM therapy in lung cancers and cancer in general, which may benefit those with mesothelioma. Otherwise, one can look to the specific symptoms for CAM therapies, as well as be using natural therapies to reduce the side effects of conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine provides many insights into herbs used for both the symptoms of cancer, as well as the side effects of conventional medical treatment.
Astragalus is a researched herb, demonstrating an immune stimulating benefit, as well as increasing energy, as fatigue is a very common complaint of both cancer and conventional treatment.
In gastrointestinal cancers, astragalus has been shown to inhibit tumor growth, reduce tumor spreading, reduce the immune-suppressing effects of chemotherapy, and enhance the effects of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin, as well as the quality of life of individuals going through chemotherapy.4
In patients undergoing treatment with cisplatin and vinorelbene, astragalus polysaccharide injection was shown to significantly improve quality of life (QOL), loss of appetite and physical function, whereas fatigue, pain, nausea and vomiting reduced significantly with the use of astragalus.5
In patients with advanced cancer, a decoction of Astragalus improved appetite and body weight significantly. Given that wasting is one of the most common causes for both a drop in QOL and the inability to bounce back from cancer, this might be a great therapy to use to help manage these symptoms.6
Adequate Vitamin D levels are still being investigated for their role in the prevention and treatment of various cancers. Mixed results have been seen from epidemiological evidence, for getting vitamin D to “healthy” levels, though what is health promoting may be different than the lowest normal value, which is what many studies base their criteria on for significance. Other studies have shown promise for various cancers, including vitamin D positively affecting cervical intraepithelial neoplasia.7,8
The inconsistency in studies may also have to do with vitamin D receptor polymorphisms, which means that some people don’t have the right sequencing of genes to create adequate vitamin D receptors leaving their body less able to benefit from the effects of vitamin D. Studies that explore higher doses, as well as levels in the normal range that are higher than the lowest healthy level, may lead to more promising discoveries.9
Boswellia spp (Frankincense)
Boswellia serrata has some unique research supporting its use in reducing symptoms associated with various cancers. In a trial with patients undergoing radiation for brain cancer, a 4200mg dose of Boswellia significantly reduced brain swelling, a common side effect of treatment.10
Boswellia sacra essential oil used in vitro has been shown to reduce both breast cancer and prostate cancer cells through the action of tumor cell-specific apoptosis (cell death), as well as reducing tumor aggressiveness. The essential oil shuts off signaling pathways and cell cycle regulators, properties many drug manufacturers seek to achieve, as these pathways may be a key step in reducing cancer.11
Proteolytic Enzyme Therapy
In vitro work has shown promising benefit with enzyme therapy for cancer patients, using a combination of trypsin, chymotrypsin, and papain or bromelain, especially as it relates to immunological, anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, and antitumor or anti-metastatic activities. In the European Union, systemic proteolytic enzyme therapy has been used to treat patients with breast and colorectal cancers, as well as plasmacytoma (bone or soft tissue masses).
Systemic enzyme therapy was shown to significantly decrease tumor-induced and therapy-induced side effects such as nausea, digestive complaints, fatigue, weight loss, and restlessness. This translated into a more stabilized quality of life. In patients with plasmacytoma, proteolytic enzyme therapy increased the response rates, the duration of remissions, and the overall survival times of patients. Very promising indeed!12
The Bottom Line
Mesothelioma may be a more rare type of cancer but because many pathways overlap in cancer cell growth and tumor suppression, many of the therapies explored in this article may help you if you are a loved one has been diagnosed with Mesothelioma. So be sure to do your own research and become your best health advocate. After all, your life may depend on it!
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Guo L, Bai SP, Zhao L, Wang XH. Astragalus polysaccharide injection integrated with vinorelbine and cisplatin for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer: effects on quality of life and survival. Med Oncol. 2012 Sep;29(3):1656-62. Published September 2011. Accessed July 2017.
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Vahedpoor Z, Jamilian M, Bahmani F, Aghadavod E, Karamali M, Kashanian M, Asemi Z. Effects of Long-Term Vitamin D Supplementation on Regression and Metabolic Status of Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Horm Cancer. 2017 Feb;8(1):58-67. Published February 2017. Accessed August 2017.
Shaukat N1, Jaleel F2, Moosa FA3, Qureshi NA4. Association between Vitamin D deficiency and Breast Cancer. Pak J Med Sci. 2017 May-Jun;33(3):645-649. Published May 2017. Accessed August 2017.
Rai V, Abdo J, Agrawal S, Agrawal DK. Vitamin D Receptor Polymorphism and Cancer: An Update. Anticancer Res. 2017 Aug;37(8):3991-4003. Published August 2017. Accessed August 2017.
Kirste S, Treier M, Wehrle SJ, Becker G, Abdel-Tawab M, Gerbeth K, Hug MJ, Lubrich B, Grosu AL, Momm F. Boswellia serrata acts on cerebral edema in patients irradiated for brain tumors: a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot trial. Cancer. 2011 Aug 15;117(16):3788-95. Published February 2011. Accessed August 2017.
Mahmoud M Suhail, Weijuan Wu, Amy Cao, Fadee G Mondalek, Kar-Ming Fung, Pin-Tsen Shih, Yu-Ting Fang, Cole Woolley, Gary Young and Hsueh-Kung Lin. Boswellia sacra essential oil induces tumor cell-specific apoptosis and suppresses tumor aggressiveness in cultured human breast cancer cells. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:129. Published December 2011. Accessed August 2017.
Beuth J. Proteolytic enzyme therapy in evidence-based complementary oncology: fact or fiction? Integr Cancer Ther. 2008 Dec;7(4):311-6. Published December 2008. Accessed August 2017.
https://www.cancertutor.com/category/protocols/ Accessed August 2017.