A radiation treatment known as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is used in certain limited cases where patients have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer. In normal circumstances, IMRT is used to treat head, prostate, and neck cancer. During this procedure, a device called a linear accelerator delivers high doses of external radiation directly and precisely to the cancerous tumor. That type of precision protects the healthy tissue surrounding the affected area. The goal is to extend the life span for mesothelioma patients and completely eliminate the tumor. IMRT provides a viable treatment option.
Intensity-Modulated Radiation Treatment for Pleural Mesothelioma
The traditional method of care for patients with pleural mesothelioma is referred to as trimodality therapy, which relies on surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy (radiation). Studies have shown that IMRT is the most effective form of therapy among the radiation treatments.
Hemithoracic Radiation Therapy
When only a single area of a patient’s chest needs to be targeted with radiation, many doctors rely on a form of intensity-modulated radiation treatment (IMRT) known as hemithoracic radiation therapy. Patients with advanced mesothelioma often benefit from this treatment because of the high doses of radiation used. Research is ongoing to determine the long-term treatment results of this therapy, while researchers are optimistic that hemithoracic radiation may help certain cases of mesothelioma.
The Positives and Negatives of IMRT
There are several methods used by doctors to determine how much radiation a patient will receive after the shape of the tumor is determined by data from MRIs and 3D CT scans. These results will help determine the computer-calculated radiation doses and the most appropriate treatment plan for a mesothelioma patient undergoing intensity-modulated radiation treatment.
Reducing the amount of radiation around healthy tissue is imperative during radiation therapy treatment. A significant benefit to IMRT is the ability to administer high doses of radiation to the cancerous tumor with a low chance of normal tissue being damaged.
As with any surgical procedure, there are risks and complications. Radiation therapy can bring about early and late side effects. Early side effects that appear during or immediately after treatment usually go away within several weeks. Common early side effects of radiation therapy include skin problems, tiredness or fatigue. Skin in the treatment area may become irritated, more sensitive, or swollen. Additional skin changes include peeling, blistering, dryness, and itching.
A patient’s lungs also may become inflamed by a form of toxicity called fatal pneumonitis. Irreversible lung damage is possible if the tissue that lines air sacs inside a patient’s lungs are not capable of stretching during breathing. As the pneumonitis worsens, it can result in respiratory failure, heart failure, and even death. An oncologist must determine how high a dose of radiation can be tolerated without risking healthy tissue or putting a patient in danger of serious or fatal side effects.