Radiation therapy is one of the oldest forms of mesothelioma cancer treatment available, though it has consistently become more sophisticated as the years have passed. The techniques now available to deliver the radiation have resulted in more targeted therapy and better results. For mesothelioma patients, radiation may be used after a form of surgery that is designed to remove as much of the cancer as possible. It may also be employed to relieve some of the symptoms of mesothelioma disease and make the patient more comfortable.
External Beam Radiation
External beam radiation uses a radiation source to target a specific locale and eliminate or slow the growth of malignant cells in this area.
The oldest and most widely used form of radiation therapy is known as external beam radiation. This is the "original" form of radiation treatment and the type with which most people are familiar.
External beam radiation is administered by means of a machine that delivers an external source of radiation directly to the affected area where the tumor is located. This machine slowly moves around the body but does not touch it. As such, this particular kind of cancer treatment is painless and can be delivered at an outpatient facility, so no hospital stays are necessary.
As with all forms of radiation therapy, the external beam variety is intended to kill cancer cells and to stop them from multiplying. Dosages of radiation involved in this type of treatment are fairly high and can reach areas of the body other than the tumor. Therefore, healthy cells are also sometimes affected.
Generally, external beam mesothelioma radiation is administered five times per week for anywhere from one or two to several weeks. The recommended dosage and length of therapy will depend on a number of factors including the type of cancer, its location, its size, the general overall health of the patient, and which other treatments are being used at the same time. Most sessions last anyone from 10 to 30 minutes, rarely longer.
During treatment, the patient is asked to lie flat on a table and certain parts of the body that should not be exposed to the radiation may be covered with shields that deflect the beams. During the treatment, the technician will be in another room controlling the radiation machine but will be able to talk to the patient through an intercom system. The patient should expect to hear clicking, whirring, and other noises, which are completely normal and are merely indicators that the machine is working properly. If there is any concern, the patient can speak to the technician via the intercom and voice their concerns.
Brachytherapy is an internal radiation source which is implanted within the patient but has yet to show efficacy in mesothelioma management.
Mesothelioma Brachytherapy - also known as internal radiation therapy - is a targeted form of treatment that delivers high doses of radiation directly to the tumor. Greek for “short distance” therapy, this variety of radiation therapy has not been around as long as the external beam type, but its potential utility is being studied in number of different kinds of cancer, including mesothelioma.
The process of delivering radiation via brachytherapy involves the implantation of tiny radioactive seeds or rods in or near the tumor. This method allows highly-concentrated doses to reach the area of most concern, and because delivery is so precise, fewer healthy cells are affected during the treatment process.
There are two types of brachytherapy offered - temporary and permanent. The former involves the implantation of seeds for a pre-designated short period of time after which they will be removed. Conversely, permanent brachytherapy means the seeds are never removed though they will eventually stop emitting radioactivity, usually within 3 to 12 months of implantation, depending on the dosage and type of radioactive material used in the treatment.
Brachytherapy is delivered as an outpatient procedure in a shielded room that can contain the radiation. It does not generally require a hospital stay except in the case of some high-dose varieties of this treatment. The seeds or rods are implanted by means of metal tubes or catheters. General or local anesthesia will be used to lessen discomfort. If the therapy is to be of the temporary variety, the applicator may be left in place until the seeds are removed.
When the procedure is complete, the patient may return home but may be advised to avoid interaction with pregnant women and small children, who are most prone to the effects of radiation. However, the amount of radiation released by a person who has undergone brachytherapy is fairly minimal.
Side Effects of Mesothelioma Radiation
Side effects of mesothelioma radiation include fatigue, skin problems, dry mouth, and oral cavity inflammation.
The most common complaints from radiation patients include:
- Severe fatigue - Radiation seems to zap the energy of those who undergo the treatment and many individuals report an extreme level of fatigue during the course of treatment. Many patients also report that the fatigue remains for months or even years after the treatment is complete.
- Skin problems - Redness, dryness, peeling, and a darkening of the skin are common side effects of radiation therapy. Burning of the skin is less rampant then it was in the early days of radiation treatment though it can still occur to some degree.
- Mouth problems - Most patients undergoing radiation treatment report extreme dry mouth or inflammation of the oral cavity as well as changes in taste. These should be reported to a doctor immediately if they are interfering with eating.
Many radiation patients find some relief from these side effects using alternative treatments such as massage or acupuncture.