Radiation, sometimes referred to as radiotherapy, is a long-standing cancer treatment method. For years, it has been used to treat various types of cancers, and mesothelioma is no different in this regard. As the name implies, radiation or radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation to eradicate cancer cells. It also is used to shrink tumors to manageable sizes.
The standard type of radiotherapy involves external radiation therapy. Radiation is delivered to a patient’s body externally through beams of radiation from a machine. Over the course of treatment, increasingly higher doses of radiation are concentrated on the tumor in the hopes of killing the cancer cells and stopping their spread. Radiation is also administered internally to patients. With this process, radioactive isotopes are injected or implanted into the targeted area where cancer cells are located. This method is called brachytherapy.
Radiation Often Part Of Multi-Modality Treatment
A mesothelioma patient’s treatment team routinely develops a treatment plan which encompasses a multi-modality approach. What this means is that radiation is used in combination with other treatment options to fight the cancer. Radiation is often used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. When surgical procedures, such as a pleurectomy or an extrapleural pneumonectomy are performed, radiation has proven especially helpful following the surgery as a means to combat any residual disease that remains in the chest cavity. There is always concern with mesothelioma that the tumor will metastasize or spread along incisions following the surgical procedures denoted above, or during other procedures, such as a thorascopy, chest tube drainage, or a biopsy.
It bears emphasis that radiation therapy, like chemotherapy, by itself is not considered a curative treatment for mesothelioma patients. However, radiation is often a highly effective palliative treatment. It often eases pain and discomfort and improves quality of life. Sometimes mesothelioma patients are not viable candidates for surgery or chemotherapy. For these patients, radiation is a key means to treat pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms associated with the cancer.
As scientific research advances, there are cutting edge radiation treatments that have demonstrated great promise. If you or a loved one suffers from mesothelioma, you should have a dialogue with your treatment team to find out if radiotherapy is appropriate to incorporate into your treatment plan.
What to Expect When Undergoing Radiotherapy
Upon the evaluation and analysis as to your candidacy for radiotherapy, your treatment team will decide whether you will be prescribed external or internal radiation. Oftentimes, your doctor will refer you to a radiation oncologist. This is a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy. Upon evaluation, you will receive a schedule of treatments. The schedule of radiation treatments may be as short as a few days, but usually continues for weeks and even months. To receive the full benefit of the treatment regimen, ensure your strict compliance with the schedule.
If your treatment plan involves internal radiation treatment, a surgical procedure will occur. Because surgery is performed, you will be admitted to and spend time in a hospital. On the other hand, if external radiation is implemented in your treatment plan, you will be seen on an out-patient basis in a specialized unit of the hospital or clinic.
The side effects attendant to external radiation are relatively mild in comparison to other cancer therapies, including chemotherapy. But the purpose of radiation is to destroy cancerous cells, and while accomplishing this goal, healthy cells are also destroyed. Consequently, common side effects of radiotherapy accrue to mesothelioma patients. These common side effects include nausea, appetite loss, and extreme fatigue. While these are unpleasant byproducts of radiotherapy, they generally subside upon completion of the treatment because your healthy cells repair themselves.