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Radiation Treatment for Mesothelioma

Radiation Therapy

Radiaion is one of the standard therapies used to treat all forms of mesothelioma: pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial.  It is often combined with surgery and/or chemotherapy.  Your oncologist and you will decide if radiation therapy is a good treatment option depending on your type, location, size, and stage of mesothelioma.  If radiation is added, a special oncologist will do perform the therapy and you will have a chance to meet with this specialist before the procedure. 

We often get common questions and concerns expressed from our clients, and hope to share some information in this article that helps you to understand this form of treatment better.  The most basic question is what is radiation therapy and when is it a good treatment option. 

Radiation therapy uses high energy waves to destroy or damage mesothelioma cells and although some nearby healthy cells can be affected, they usually recover quickly.  Radiation works by delivering rays directly to tumors for brief periods, causing cancer cells to be damaged thereby preventing them from growing and further dividing.  This, in turn, can slow cause existing mesothelioma cells to die and slow down or stop tumors from growing and spreading. 

Depending on what your treatment plan recommends, there are several ways radiation can be given, either in isolation or combination:

Types of Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma

Ex External radiation – usually an outpatient treatment that involves the use of a special machine (usually a linear accelerator) that delivers an external beam of radiation to predetermined tumor sites.  External beam radiation does not make you radioactive and normal contact with others is permitted.  To avoid damage to normal cells, external radiation is usually given in smaller doses on a daily basis over a series of weeks, sometimes up to two months.  Just like getting an X-ray, external radiation is not painful at all.

Internal radiation – involves delivering a radioactive source through thin plastic tubes that are put inside the body in or near where the mesothelioma cells are found.  These implants can be temporary or permanent.  This type of radiation has less effect on healthy cells, however sometimes requires hospitalization due to the need of anesthesia while they are being placed.  This method is sometimes used after surgery in which an implant is put in or near the site where the tumor was removed to kill any remaining malignant cells and prevent recurrence.  Sometimes small doses of radiation can be given off, and although unlikely to be strong enough to cause exposure to others, your visitors may be limited, as well as contact with pregnant women and small children.

Systemic radiation – clinical research studies are investigating this method for treating mesothelioma, and have initial promising results.  With this type of therapy, radioactive drugs (called radio-pharmaceuticals) are given orally or by injection.  The drugs then travel through the body to the place where the tumors are and then give off radiation.  A short period of hospitalization is often required for this type of radiation treatment.   (See also our article on Systemic Chemotherapy.) 

Essential during radiation treatment is to keep yourself as healthy as possible with good nutrition and rest.  Avoid anyone who may be sick or infectious.  Your immunity system will be compromised during treatments.  Stay in communication with your oncologist and health care team, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or raise any concerns.