Radiation therapy, or in other countries radiotherapy, has been used to treat mesothelioma for a long time.  In the past few years there has been advancement in the techniques used to deliver radiation therapy.  The oldest form of radiation delivery is external beam.  This works by using a radiation source to target a specific location and eliminate or slow the growth of malignant cells in that area.

Radiation therapy is often used in conjunction with other therapies such as chemotherapy and surgery.  Radiation therapy has a role in the palliative treatment of mesothelioma.  Radiation therapy can help alleviate the symptoms such as pain, dyspepsia, esophageal symptoms, and superior vena cava syndrome.

Brachytherapy delivers high doses of radiation directly to the tumor.  Seeds or rods are implanted in or in the area around the tumor.  This allows high concentrations  doses to reach the area of concern.  It spares the healthy cells in the area.  The seeds or rods can be in for a prescribed amount of time and then removed or implanted permanently.   Over time they will stop emitting radioactivity usually within 3 to 12 months.  The seeds or rods can be implanted on an outpatient basis.  Some of the precautions with this type of treatment are when the patient returns home is to avoid pregnant women and children for their safety.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy is highly specialized radiation therapy.  During treatment the intensity can be changed to spare adjourning structures.  IMRT shapes the radiation beam to the shape of the tumor. IMRT utilizes beams of multileaf collimators that can turn on or off or be blocked during treatment, varying the radiation beam intensity across the targeted field.

Side effects of radiation therapy include the following:

  • Severe fatigue.  Often setting in on the third week of a six week treatment.
  • Redness, dryness, peeling, darkening of the skin can all occur.
  • Extreme dry mouth and inflammation of the mouth and changes in taste also can occur.