Treatment Options

Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma

Radiation therapy is the old standby for many cancer treatments, and mesothelioma is no different.

1. Why use radiation?
High dose radiation is used to directly kill cancerous cells in the body. The radiation destroys cancer cells at the molecular level, and keeps them from replicating. Radiation is usually combined with chemotherapy and surgery to form a total front against cancer.

2. Where does radiation come from?
In previous years, radiation from high energy X-Rays, photons, neutrons, cobalt or other radioactive sources were concentrated on the tumor, and this radiation would kill the cancer cells and prohibit them from growing and spreading. This radiation would come from a machines and radioisotopes, but technology has developed several promising new advances.

3. What does using radiation to treat mesothelioma accomplish?
Radiation is very useful against cancer of cells that divide quickly, like mesothelioma, because it kills cells that replicate fast. When patients undergo radiation therapy, they receive several successively higher doses of radiation, which shrink the tumor to a manageable size. Radiation relieves a great deal of pain, and victims of pleural mesothelioma suffer reduced instances of shortness of breath. Unfortunately, radiation cannot kill all of the cancerous cells without causing significant damage to the patient.

4. What kinds of mesothelioma radiation therapy are available?
There are two main types of radiation therapy: internal and external

  • Internal radiation therapy (also known as brachytherapy) injects small amounts of radioactive material directly into the cancerous tissues, usually through tubes, wires, catheters, and needles.  This allows higher does of concentrated radiation over a shorter time frame on more entrenched tumors.
  • External radiation therapy is the standard type of radiation therapy.  Over the course of a day, weeks, or months, radiation is delivered into a patient to stop the spread of cancer throughout the body.

5. What are the side effects of mesothelioma radiation treatment?
The problem with this therapy is that radiation is non selective and does not just kill bad cancer cells, but also many other healthy cells as well. Most healthy cells being to repair themselves after initial exposure, but this damage and repair are what cause the unpleasant side effects of radiation. Most of the side effects of the radiation are manageable with drugs or other pharmaceuticals, and the benefits usually far outweigh the risks. Some common side effects include:

  • Redness near the irradiated area
  • Infertility
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea

6. What can affect mesothelioma radiation treatment?
Many different variables affect radiation treatment of a mesothelioma tumor. Size, stage, location, and type are all factors considered by doctors when pursing the best route and amount of radiation therapy. The treatment is often given from several angles to best target the site of the tumor. The radioactive material and the dead cancer cells are eliminated from the body through normal excretory processes, and do not usually harm the cells after the treatment. The only downside is that the size and location of the tumor may prevent radiation from properly affecting the target tumor, requiring several treatments.

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Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma page was updated on 2/22/2012