Most mesothelioma patients are treated with what is called multimodal radiation therapy. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery are regularly part of the treatment plan. One of most effective and accepted radiation therapy methods used by doctors is external beam radiation. The machine used in this therapy is called a linear accelerator or LINAC.
A doctor who is trained to use radiotherapy, such as a radiation oncologist, usually will perform the radiation procedure at an outpatient facility. The exact location of the cancerous tumor is targeted with photon light beams in the form of either Gamma rays or X-rays.
External Beam Radiation Therapy and Mesothelioma
The first method in treating patients with mesothelioma is surgery. Radiation therapy is considered a secondary treatment plan of action. Radiation therapy has the specific purpose of eliminating any cancerous cells that may have been unknowingly left behind after surgery.
Pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma are the two most common types of mesothelioma experienced by patients. This means a patient’s lungs or the lining of their abdomen is infected, depending on which type of mesothelioma is present.
The primary surgery administered for pleural mesothelioma is called pleurectomy/decortications. Using radiation therapy after this specific surgery is considered quite complicated because of the severe risk of damage to the lungs. Pneumonitis, a dangerous inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs, can cause a patient to have extreme difficulty breathing.
Another surgery that treats pleural mesothelioma is extrapleural pneumonectomy or EPP, which involves the removal of a patient’s lung. Survival rates increase for patients who receive radiotherapy after EPP because the photon beams are directed at the cavity where the lung has been removed.
Researchers have begun to explore the treatment benefits of a specific type of external beam radiation called intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which utilizes computerized linear accelerators to ensure the utmost precision in distributing specific doses of radiation to desired areas. This treatment also assists in reducing the risk of severe adverse reactions.
Reactions to External Beam Radiation Therapy
The condition known as “seeding” is an absolute concern for surgeons who treat patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. Doctors use radiation to help combat seeding, which is when cancerous cells are released into an unaffected area after a tumor is removed.
Normal side effects associated with external beam radiation therapy include skin irritation and reddening at the treatment site, hair loss, and feelings of tiredness and fatigue. If chemotherapy also is being administered, then the side effects typically are considerably worse.
Pleural mesothelioma patients may experience the most severe reactions to radiation. Shortness of breath, an increase in breathing problems, and possible damage to the lungs has been reported. In addition, peritoneal mesothelioma patients may have side effects such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.