Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma Radiation

In combination with chemotherapy and surgery, radiation therapy is one of the three most commonly used treatments for mesothelioma. Medical radiation uses the same nuclear radiation given off by radioactive substances. It can be en effective form of treatment because it is highly destructive to living tissues, including cancerous tissue.

Like all radiation however, medical radiation destroys healthy tissue along with diseased tissues and must therefore be targeted carefully to avoid doing more harm than good. It is common knowledge that radiation can cause cancer, and secondary tumors are among the risks of radiation treatment.

Radiation is applied in one of two ways;: either through tightly controlled beams aimed directly at the tumor from several angles, or by the insertion of capsules directly into the tumor. Depending on the nature of the patient's condition and the status of their malignant mesothelioma, radiation therapy may be used as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

There are three main types of radiation therapy: external beam radiotherapy, unsealed source radiation therapy and brachytherapy. In most cases, only external beam radiotherapy and brachytherapy are used to treat mesothelioma. The type of radiation treatment a patient receives depends on several factors, including the type of mesothelioma, the stage of the disease and whether other treatment options are also viable.

External Beam Radiotherapy

External beam radiotherapy is the most common type of radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer. During external beam radiotherapy the patient lies down to expose the area that requires treatment, and a beam of radiation is directed at the treatment area. During a series of treatments, the mesothelioma is bombarded with radiation to kill cancer cells and limit the growth and spread of these cells. Rarely, however, is this type of radiation therapy able to completely destroy all tumor cells. As such, it is usually considered a palliative form of treatment to provide the patient relief from pain and other symptoms associated with mesothelioma (such as shortness of breath and coughing).


Brachytherapy, also known as sealed source radiation therapy, is the implantation of tiny radioactive rods in or near mesothelioma tumors. This treatment method allows the delivery of a highly-concentrated and closely-targeted dose of radiation to mesothelioma tumors that might be resistant to other types of radiation therapy. This type of radiation causes less damage to healthy cells surrounding the affected area and is less invasive than traditional radiation.

Patients with mesothelioma may receive either temporary or permanent brachytherapy treatment. For temporary treatment, radioactive capsules are placed within tumors for a short time and are then removed. In the case of permanent treatment, the rods are not removed, but are left within tumors and eventually run out of radiation.

When used to ease the symptoms of mesothelioma radiation is palliative. It is not intended to cure the patient of mesothelioma, but rather to ease the symptoms to increase the patient's quality of life. While the radiation treatment by itself is painless, the side effects can be extremely unpleasant and painful. Some of the side effects are similar to those experienced in the course of chemotherapy, nausea, hair loss, weakened immune system, and there may be swelling of soft tissues. Anticipated swelling may be treated with steroids or surgery before the radiation treatment begins.


A new and exciting development in radiation therapy is called helical tomotherapy, which allows the radiation oncologist to deliver radiation therapy to the patient with surgical precision. This translates into more effective treatment of the mesothelioma tumor while sparing healthy tissue and significantly reducing side effects.

Tomotherapy is a combination of spiral CT scanning and Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). This state-of-the-art technology is now being used more frequently as the technology becomes more accepted and better known.

The oncologist uses software to establish the contours of the tumor. The doctor then decides what dose the target area should receive as well as what dose is acceptable to the organs at risk. Computer imaging allows the doctor to see exactly where the radiation will go and in which positions the patient should lie in order to deliver the most effective dose.

A CT scan is taken just prior to treatment to verify the targets and patient position. This gives the doctor the ability to make necessary and precise adjustments and to ensure correct dose delivery. After the doctor confirms the details, the dose is delivered to the patient.

The radiation is produced by a linear accelerator (linac) that travels in circles around the scanner body. The linac moves in unison with a multileaf collimator (MLC). The leaves of the MLC move in and out to control the radiation beam leaving the accelerator. At the same time the patient is passed slowly through the center of the scanner body.

The result is a tightly focused, highly effective dose of radiation that has far fewer negative results. As computer-assisted technology increases, this form of radiation is likely to become more popular than any of the other forms. Additional information about alternative treatments for mesothelioma is available in a free information packet - just fill out the form on this page to receive more information.

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