Radiation therapy for malignant mesothelioma uses X-rays and other energy beams to shrink tumors and slow the spread of cancer cells. It is sometimes paired with surgery or chemotherapy as a life-extending, curative treatment option, or it can be used as a form of palliative care to reduce symptoms.
What Is Mesothelioma Radiation?
Radiation therapy, also called radiation or radiotherapy, uses high-energy waves and particles to damage the DNA of cancer cells. When cell DNA becomes damaged, the cells stop dividing and eventually die, shrinking tumors and slowing the spread of cancer through the body.
Radiation is more commonly used for pleural mesothelioma (develops in the lining of the lungs) than for peritoneal mesothelioma (develops in the lining of the abdomen). This is because the organs in the abdomen may be inadvertently damaged during the treatment process.
How Radiation Is Used to Treat Mesothelioma
Radiation therapy is most effective when it can be applied to a single, distinct tumor. Because mesothelioma is usually diagnosed after it has spread throughout the body, radiation isn’t always the most effective therapy for it.
Mesothelioma patients who are eligible for radiation therapy may receive the treatment as a curative or palliative option, depending on the specifics of their cancer.
Curative Radiation for Mesothelioma
When radiation is used as a curative measure, its purpose is to try and prolong life expectancy through the removal of tumors.
Curative radiation for mesothelioma may be applied before surgery to help shrink tumors and make them easier to remove. It may also be used after surgery to help kill cancer cells left behind and prevent the mesothelioma from coming back.
Palliative Radiation for Mesothelioma
In patients with late-stage mesothelioma, radiation therapy is often used as a palliative treatment to reduce symptoms like pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty swallowing. It can be a good option for patients who are not eligible for aggressive curative treatments.
Mesothelioma Radiation Prognosis
When paired with other therapies, mesothelioma radiation can play a significant part in increasing patients’ overall survival.
According to a study by the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, pleural mesothelioma patients who underwent radiation therapy saw an overall median survival of 51 months.
This represents a significant improvement over patients who did not undergo the treatment, whose median survival was only 17-20 months.
Types of Mesothelioma Radiation
There are several types of radiation therapy that can be used to treat mesothelioma patients. Which type you might receive, if any, depends on a number of factors — like where your cancer is located and whether you will be receiving other types of cancer treatment at the same time.
Work with your mesothelioma doctor to determine which type of radiation therapy is best for you.
External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)
External beam radiation therapy (EBRT), which uses a machine to aim high-energy waves or particles at the site of the cancer, is the most common type of mesothelioma radiation.
EBRT is painless, and treatment lasts only for a few minutes. However, if you have an EBRT appointment, plan for it to take about 15-30 minutes since it takes time for the technician to set up the equipment and properly position you.
A regular course of external radiation therapy lasts 5-8 weeks, with most patients receiving treatment 5 days a week. Like all cancer treatments, this can vary based on individual needs.