Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that involves the implantation of tiny radioactive seeds in or near cancerous tissue. It is used more often to treat cervical, breast and prostate cancers, but can also be effective in treating mesothelioma. Depending on which form the oncologist believes would be most effective, patients may be treated with iodine, palladium, cesium or iridium.

An advantage of brachytherapy is that the radioactivity is narrowly focused across an area of approximately one centimeter. The treatment allows the oncologist to deliver a strong and highly concentrated dose of radiation directly to diseased cells while causing minimal damage to surrounding healthy cells and tissue.

Brachytherapy seeds are about the size of a grain of rice. The surgeon performs the insertion of the seeds while the patient is under general anesthesia. General anesthesia carries its own risks, and this means that patients must be evaluated to ensure they are healthy enough to survive the surgery. The radioactive seeds may be implanted using one of two methods. Intracavitary treatment requires inserting radioactive seeds that are encased in small containers. In interstitial treatment, containers are not used and the seeds are placed directly into the malignant tissue instead.

Types of Brachytherapy

Both temporary and permanent brachytherapy placement treatments are used for mesothelioma. Temporary brachytherapy treatment means that the radioactive seeds are placed inside the mesothelioma tumors for a short period of time and then removed. If it is permanent therapy, the seeds are not removed. Over time, the seeds produce less and less radiation until eventually radiation emission stops entirely. Depending on the type of radioactive material used in the treatment, the seeds only emit the radiation emission for three to 12 months.

High Dose and Low Dose Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy treatments for mesothelioma are separated into high and low dose forms of the treatment. High dose brachytherapy is administered through a catheter with individual capsules being delivered into tumors at regular intervals. While the treatment itself takes place during a single session and takes only a few minutes to complete, the procedure may take several hours so the doctors can prepare for precise placement of the seed and the delivery device.

Doctors may choose to use an x-ray or CT scan to assist in placement or to verify correct positioning once the seed is in place. It is a simple enough procedure that it is generally performed as an outpatient procedure. Patients typically receive 12 separate treatments over the course of several weeks.

Low dose brachytherapy is more complicated and involves a higher risk. With low dose brachytherapy, the patient receives a continuous low-dose radiation over several hours or several days. Similar to low dose continuous radiation is pulsed dose rate radiation. In pulsed dose rate radiation, the radiation occurs in bursts of about an hour over the period of several hours or days. Unlike high dose therapy where there can be several treatments, the patient undergoing low dose brachytherapy is given only one treatment. It is performed as an in-patient procedure and requires at least one night in the hospital.

What to Expect During Treatment

During treatment, a patient is alone in a room that is equipped with speakers so the patient can communicate with doctors. For high dose brachytherapy, the patient can expect to be alone during the ten minutes of treatment. Pulsed brachytherapy patients can have visitors between bursts of radiation, but no more than 30 minutes per visitor per day.

Benefits and Limitations of Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy treatment for mesothelioma can include side effects such as pain, swelling and sometimes bruising at the treatment site. The symptoms are usually mild and of short duration. In addition, the side effects are less intense than those typically associated with other forms of radiation treatment.

Brachytherapy is a non-invasive procedure because of the delivery method used to administer treatment. Unlike other treatments for mesothelioma that require open surgery, patients undergoing brachytherapy can typically resume normal levels of activity within a few days. There is also a reduced chance of complications and post-operative infections that may result from more invasive surgical procedures.

Although the amount of radiation emitted by patients who are undergoing brachytherapy is very low, they are still advised to avoid contact with younger children and pregnant women who are more vulnerable to the effects of the radiation.

For more information about brachytherapy and other mesothelioma treatments, fill out the request form on this page to receive a free comprehensive package.

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