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Radiation for Mesothelioma

If you or someone you love has mesothelioma, one of a doctor’s suggested treatments may be radiation therapy. Radiation is a common way to kill cancer cells and prevent mesothelioma from spreading throughout the body. Doctors use radiation for mesothelioma most often in combination with other types of treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation can also be part of a patient’s palliative mesothelioma treatment to help reduce symptoms.

How Does Radiation for Mesothelioma Work?

Mesothelioma is a cancer that most often arises due to asbestos. Even in small quantities, asbestos can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and other serious illnesses by lodging inside of the victim’s body and causing irritation. The most common form of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, arises from asbestos staying in the lining that covers the lungs. Malignant mesothelioma is generally terminal, with no known cure. Treatments for mesothelioma, however, can abate symptoms, improve quality of life and increase a patient’s lifespan.

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Outpatient procedures
  • Clinical trials

Radiation therapy uses a beam of energy to target cancer cells and permanently alter their DNA. This process kills the cells and prevents them from replicating. In this way, radiation therapy can prevent cancer from growing and metastasizing to other parts of the body. Radiation therapy normally continues to damage cancer cells for a few weeks after the initial treatment. Most physicians recommend radiation therapy in conjunction with other types of treatments for mesothelioma. It is most commonly paired with chemotherapy.

Mesothelioma treatment radiation

Who Is a Candidate for Radiation Treatments?

Three types of mesothelioma can be treated using radiation: pleural, pericardial and testicular. Peritoneal mesothelioma is not treated with radiation therapy, as this type of therapy across the entire abdomen can cause severe side effects. Instead, radiation therapy may be done as a supportive care option for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma who experience pain in a specific area. It can also be more challenging to treat pleural mesothelioma with radiation than other types due to a risk of damaging the lung.

Patients with different stages of mesothelioma may be eligible for radiation treatments, although the survival benefit of this method decreases among patients in later stages. Even if a patient is not a good candidate for surgery, radiation treatments can be beneficial to shrink tumors or stop the spread of cancer cells. Discuss if radiation therapy is something that you should include in your mesothelioma treatment plan with your doctor.

Types of Radiation

Modern technology provides many different types of radiation therapies and treatments that are available to patients with mesothelioma. The most common types are external-beam radiation therapy, where radiation is delivered using a machine that is outside of the body. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, is also a possibility, where radioactive material is implanted into cancer or surrounding tissues. Common types of radiation therapy available include:

  • Photon beam therapy
  • Particle radiation
  • Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT)
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT)
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
  • Stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT)
  • Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT)
  • Systemic radiation therapy
  • Radioimmunotherapy
  • Palliative radiation

Each type of radiation treatment is suited for different uses and has pros and cons. Some use computer guidance to avoid healthy tissues while others use imaging scans and other methods to target cancer cells. The dose of the radiation that is appropriate for the patient is determined by the necessity of applying the radiation to the entire body part while taking into consideration possible damage to the inner organs.

Radiation treatment kills cancerous and noncancerous cells alike, making it important for physicians and oncologists to carefully dose and target the beams. Discuss your treatment plan with a doctor to learn more about each type of radiation treatment and all of your therapy options. Your doctor will help you choose the best type for your specific case and diagnosis.

What to Expect if You Are Getting Radiation for Mesothelioma

If your doctor recommends radiation therapy to treat your mesothelioma, prepare for a noninvasive radiological procedure. You may receive a form of external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which varies the strength of the beams to more accurately target tumors. EBRT is the most common type of radiation therapy for mesothelioma. Your doctor may also use image-guided radiation therapy, proton therapy or brachytherapy.

Image-guided radiation therapy uses imaging technology during a therapy session to more accurately position the beam over the tumor or cancerous tissues. This can prove most effective for killing cancer cells. Proton therapy specifically targets hard-to-reach cancers. It uses a high-energy beam that is more precise than traditional x-ray radiation. Brachytherapy is unique in that it involves the implantation of a radioactive device in the body rather than a beam of energy. Most physicians do not use brachytherapy to treat mesothelioma except during clinical trials.

Radiation therapy is not painful. You should not feel anything during the treatment itself. Afterward, however, you may notice some skin irritation where the doctor positioned the x-ray or beam. Each session typically only takes a few minutes, but you may have to go in for sessions multiple days of the week for several weeks. You may notice side effects such as fatigue, hair loss where you received the radiation, trouble breathing or swallowing, and cough. Side effects are usually temporary. Your doctor will follow radiation therapy up by x-raying you to check the size of the mesothelioma tumors.

What Is the Success Rate for Radiation for Mesothelioma?

Physicians do not use radiation as a cure for mesothelioma. Instead, they use radiation and other treatments to improve a patient’s quality of life, as well as to increase the patient’s lifespan. Radiation therapy has been proven to improve survival rates for patients with mesothelioma when combined with surgery and chemotherapy. It can achieve this effect by reducing the odds of local cancer recurrence. Radiation therapy can also reduce a patient’s pain and other mesothelioma symptoms by shrinking tumors to relieve pressure on the lungs, spine or abdomen.

Radiation as Part of Multimodal Mesothelioma Therapy

In some cases, a doctor may recommend radiation therapy as the first form of mesothelioma treatment. In others, radiation may be used after surgery or other therapies, such as chemotherapy. Applying it at different times can produce different results. It is generally best to use a multimodal approach when treating mesothelioma, meaning multiple treatment options for the same patient. Radiation in a mesothelioma case is often used in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy.

Traditionally, multimodal therapy for mesothelioma starts with chemotherapy. This is the use of powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cancer cells in your body. Then, the patient receives surgery to remove as much of the cancerous cells and tissues as possible. In some cases, radiation is used during surgery to prevent the spread of cancer cells during the operation. Finally, a doctor follows up with radiation therapy once the patient has recovered from the surgery, to kill any cancer cells left behind. Using radiation therapy in this way can reduce the risk of local recurrence of mesothelioma cancer cells.

Some physicians have chosen to reverse the traditional multimodal therapy approach for mesothelioma treatment. With this solution, a patient receives radiation therapy first, in high dosage. The high level of radiation that is applied to the lung or another body part could be fatal if the organ is not subsequently removed. The patient must, therefore, follow through with surgery after this type of treatment. Studies have shown positive results using a reversed, radiation-therapy first approach.

Contact an Attorney

If you require radiation therapy or other expensive treatments for mesothelioma, contact a mesothelioma lawyer to discuss the possibility of having someone else pay for your medical bills. You may be eligible for financial compensation for exposure to asbestos.

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