When malignant mesothelioma was first identified as a specific type of cancer and physicians were trying to determine the best protocol for treatment, radiation therapy was high on the list of modalities used. Since those early days, there have been many advances in our knowledge about this rare and deadly disease, and many innovations in the technology behind using radiation to kill mesothelioma cells. As a result, physicians and oncology professionals have been able to use radiation therapy in a much more targeted way and have combined its use with other protocols such as surgery and chemotherapy to provide mesothelioma patients with improved survival outcomes.
Radiation Therapy Approaches for Malignant Mesothelioma
Of the many different types of radiation therapy available, the two that are most frequently used to treat mesothelioma are brachytherapy and External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT).
External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)
EBRT has become one of the most successful radiation treatments available for patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. The technology delivers high doses of radiation in an extremely targeted way, using technology that allows the machine to bypass healthy tissue and deliver the radiation exclusively to cancerous cells. The discovery of intensity-modulated radiation therapy has made the process even more focused, allowing the radiation therapy machines to be computerized and to create a 3-dimenstional model of the cancerous tumors for the radiation machines to follow and target. The process requires a time commitment — patients need to be treated five days during the course of a week. The treatments themselves last only a few minutes and offer the additional benefit of not subjecting the patient to any pain.
Patients undergoing EBRT are likely to experience some uncomfortable side effects, including nausea, loss of appetite and stomach cramps for those undergoing the procedure for peritoneal mesothelioma, and wheezing and difficulties in breathing for those undergoing the procedure for pleural mesothelioma. Patients may also suffer from skin rashes, fatigue, and skin burns, as well as hair loss.
Also known as internal radiotherapy, brachytherapy places small radioactive seeds inside the body, close to the location of the malignant mesothelioma tumors. This sealed source radiotherapy is designed to kill the cancer cells without impacting other areas of healthy tissue. In some instances, they are removed after a short period of time, while in other cases they are left in the body indefinitely. The process is relatively simple and does not require an overnight hospital stay. It also begins to have a positive impact almost immediately. The protocol does have some downsides: patients who have the radioactive seeds in their bodies are warned against coming into contact with women who are pregnant or small children in order to minimize the risk of their exposure. There are also some reported side effects, including fatigue, rashes, dry mouth, and burning skin.
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