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 treatments or a combination of them. These treatments may be given as a clinical trial. 

What is it?

Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells in the body, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. 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 individually prescribed and treatments are often referred to as fractions. A single or several treatments may be Involved. The number of fractions required depends on the amount of tissue being treated. 

What does it do?

Radiotherapy is used to treat a particular localised area of the body to reduce the size of the tumour or to relieve symptom, for example an area of the chest wall where pain and discomfort occurs or to help with breathlessness. The area being treated is often referred to as the radiotherapy field. 

Radiotherapy can also be given to tumour deposits on the chest wall which can develop as a lump at the site of scar where a biopsy, drainage tube or operation has been. In mesothelioma small scars are often treated with 1 to 3 doses (fractions) of radiotherapy. When treating to relieve symptoms such as pain up to 10 doses (fractions) may be necessary. Radiotherapy Is normally given as daily outpatient treatments. 

Before radiotherapy begins 

Before treatment begins patients will attend the Radiotherapy Department for radiotherapy planning.  This planning occurs by scanning the patient on a machine called a simulator. There may be an interval between this visit and the start of the radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy sessions 

The radiographer will ensure that the patient is comfortable on the couch in the treatment room before starting the treatment. During treatment the patient will be alone in the room and will be able to talk to the radiographer through an intercom The radiographer will be watching from the next room all of the time. 

  • 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.

Side Effects  

Side effects may develop whilst having radiotherapy and for some time afterwards. Radiotherapy can cause side effects such as poor appetite, feeling sick, being sick, difficulty in swallowing, cough and tiredness. Some patients also experience soreness and itchiness of the skin. The extent of the side effects depends on the dose of the radiotherapy, the length of treatment and the size of the area being treated. 

If 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. 

If you would like to speak to a mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist about any of the information on this page please call our Freephone Support Line on 0800 169 2409 or email

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Multi-disciplinary teams

Clinical trials

From a healthcare professional :

Thank you so much for coming yesterday. It was really informative and helpful for all of us so thank you.