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Radiation therapy is a commonly used treatment for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. Radiation therapy kills cancer cells with high-energy rays. These rays contain ionized particles that damage the DNA of cancerous cells, which in turn leads to their death. As the cancerous cells die, the tumors shrink, which prevents cancer from spreading or returning. In addition, it provides significant pain relief to the patient.

Since mesothelioma tumors grow near sensitive organs like the lungs and heart, it can be difficult to apply radiation therapy. This difficulty has led to the development of advanced and unique radiation techniques described more fully below.

External Beam Radiation Treatment(EBRT)

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy(IMRT) is a form of external radiation therapy which allows the physician to target specific areas and adjust beam strength based on the needs of the patient. In other words, a greater force can be applied to tumors, while minimizing radiation to the surrounding tissue. Other forms of IMRT include 4D or image-guided radiation therapy, which works with a CT scanner for simultaneous imaging. Another external therapy available to mesothelioma patients is Proton Therapy. This is a cutting-edge treatment that utilizes beams of protons instead of x-rays thereby minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. This revolutionary treatment is available at select cancer centers.

Internal Radiation Treatment (Brachytherapy)

Internal radiation, or Brachytherapy, involves implanting radioactive material within the tumor to kill it. Internal radiation may also be used for surgical incisions and scars to prevent the spread of cancer resulting from surgery. This effective treatment can be placed by surgical means or by using a hollow tube and imaging scanner.

Deciding Whether Radiation Is Right For You

Radiation is not painful, but it does have some side effects. Some of these side effects may not surface until years later and become chronic or recurring issues, such as skin irritation, fatigue, hair loss (near the radiated tissue), shortness of breath, fever, pneumonia, lung scarring (fibrosis), and difficulty swallowing. However, despite these side effects, radiation therapy has been shown to effectively prevent the return of cancer in some patients. Radiation is even more effective when used in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy. This multimodal approach has helped some mesothelioma patients live 3-5 years longer. At the same time, its numerous side effects make the decision whether to receive radiation therapy one that should be determined with your doctor.