The treatment of mesothelioma will depend on a number of things including the type of mesothelioma, how advanced the disease is, the general health and fitness of the patient and their personal preferences.
There are various treatments that may be recommended for mesothelioma. These include active symptom control, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. A patient may have just one of these types of treatments or a combination of them.
Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells in the body. All the cells in the part of the body being treated have the potential to be affected by the radiotherapy. Normal, healthy cells will to some extent recover. Radiotherapy is used to treat a particular localised area of the body (for example, an area of the chest where pain is felt). The area being treated is often referred to as the radiotherapy field.
A course of radiotherapy is individually prescribed. The course may involve several doses, usually referred to as fractions, or just a few. The number of fractions required would depend on the amount of tissue that is to be treated.
Radiotherapy can be used in mesothelioma to reduce the size of the tumour to help to relieve symptoms, such as pain or discomfort.
Radiotherapy can also be given to the scar left by a biopsy, drainage tube or operation. This is to help prevent the mesothelioma from spreading into the site as small microscopic deposits may have occurred during the insertion and removal of drains, biopsy needles or surgical instruments.
In mesothelioma small scars are often treated with 3 doses (fractions) of radiotherapy. When treating to relieve symptoms such as pain up to 10 doses (fractions) may be necessary.
Before Radiotherapy Begins
Before treatment begins patients will attend the Radiotherapy Department in order to plan radiotherapy. Depending on the course of treatment prescribed it may be necessary for X-rays of the area to be treated to be taken by a special machine called a simulator. There may be an interval between this visit to the Radiotherapy Department and the start of the radiotherapy.
The radiographer will ensure that the patient is comfortable on the couch in the treatment room before starting the session. During treatment the patient will be left alone in the room, but will be able to talk to the radiographer through an intercom and the radiographer will be watching from the next room.
- Radiotherapy does not make people radioactive – it is safe to be with other people (including children) throughout treatment.
- Patients can eat and drink normally before and after each radiotherapy session.
- Radiotherapy treatments are totally painless (like having an ordinary x-ray).
- Patients will be asked to remain still during treatment but can breathe normally.
- Each radiotherapy session lasts from a few seconds to several minutes.
Radiotherapy Side Effects
Radiotherapy can cause side effects such as poor appetite, feeling sick, being sick and tiredness. Some patients also experience soreness and itchiness of the skin and difficulty in swallowing. The extent of the side effects does depend on the dose of the radiotherapy, length of treatment and the size of the area being treated. If receiving radiotherapy is being given to a scar or drain site usually side effects are limited to soreness and itchiness of the skin. However, if a larger area is being treated, skin problems, tiredness, difficulty in swallowing and poor appetite can be experienced. If patients are undergoing an extensive course of radiotherapy it is possible that other organs within the treatment field, such as the heart, liver, spleen and kidneys, will suffer long-term damage, however this is rare.
Once the course of radiotherapy is finished the side effects should gradually disappear.