Placebos and Mesothelioma

Placebos are substances or treatments that appear to be regular medications or medicines but are in actuality inactive treatments. Placebos are actually not a medicine, though they might be administered in the form of a sugar pill, injection, liquid, procedure or other form of treatment that does not actually impact the illness being treated.  However, those undergoing this treatment do not know this, meaning the effects are psychological.

The Placebo Effect

Although this form of treatment does not actually address the patient’s disease, placebos have shown a high success rate. About one in three patients see an effect after the administration of these inactive treatments. This is known as the “placebo effect.”  However, these changes generally last only a short time, as doctors believe these benefits are related to the body’s own chemical ability to temporarily relieve pain and treat other symptoms. Unfortunately, a placebo treatment can also create undesirable consequences, including headaches, nausea, nervousness and constipation that can worsen symptoms. These unpleasant effects are sometimes known as the “nocebo effect.”

Regardless of the pleasantness of the outcome, these effects are called the “expectation effects.” It is actually the patient’s belief in or experience of the placebo that dictates the results seen. Sometimes patients may also associate unrelated medical changes with their placebo treatment as well, impacting their feelings towards their treatment. Sometimes patients might even feel better after visiting a medical professional, which is another placebo that likely relies on the patient’s trust in the doctor or activity.

Mesothelioma and Placebos

One of the most well-known uses for placebos is as a control in clinical trials. However, their use as a natural pain killer might also support their widespread use in daily treatment for patients, especially in the treatment of less serious conditions. As an alternative therapy, administering placebos might help patients struggling with the pain associated with serous conditions like mesothelioma find relief through the natural release of endorphins. While no evidence exists that says placebos actually treat the cause of mesothelioma discomfort, which is the tumors, strong evidence suggests their value as a palliative treatment. In fact, a 2008 study found that nearly half of the polled doctors reported using placebos when they felt it might help a patient feel better.


The American Cancer Society