Mesothelioma is an aggressive, but rare type of cancer that is developed in the mesothelial cells following continued exposure to asbestos. The mesothelial cells are found in the lining of some organs in a membrane known as the mesothelium that protects and keeps the organs moist. When patients inhale or swallow asbestos fibers, the particles become trapped and the body cannot properly expel them. The fibers become lodged in the mesothelial cells, irritating them and causing the formation of tumors. Pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and testicular mesothelioma are the four different types of the disease, which are defined according to the location of the tumors.

There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, a disease that is often only diagnosed when it is already in advanced stages, which is explained by discreet or unnoticeable symptoms. However, research has been conducted to better understand the disease, improve treatment and find a cure. The three major standard treatments are radiation therapy, chemotherapy and / or surgery. There are, nevertheless, advantages and risks to be considered by both patients and physicians for all of these treatments.

Radiation Therapy as a Treatment Option for Mesothelioma Patients

Radiation therapy is based on the use of high-energy x-rays or particles, which are able to kill cancerous cells. However, not every cancer patient is eligible for radiation therapy. Mesothelioma can be hard to treat with radiation therapy due to the fact that this form of cancer does not usually grow independently and distinctively, which makes it more difficult for the radiation to penetrate and kill the cancerous cells while avoiding nearby healthy tissue. Patients with pleural mesothelioma are those more likely to be recommended radiation therapy, but improvements and new radiation therapy techniques are making this type of treatment increasingly more useful.

Radiation therapy is used in mesothelioma patients for two main purposes. Radiation therapy administered during or after a surgery is used as treatment to kill small areas affected by cancer that remain after the procedure and it is known as adjuvant radiation therapy. On the other hand, radiation therapy can also be used as palliative care and its goal is to ease the symptoms, which include shortness of breath, pain, bleeding and trouble swallowing.

Different Forms of Radiation Therapy to Treat Mesothelioma

Not all patients are administered with the same type of radiation therapy, which depends on numerous factors, including age, gender, stage and type of the disease. Ectrenal beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is a type of treatment that resources to x-rays from a outside the body to kill cancer cells and it is the most common form of radiation therapy for patients with mesothelioma. Previously to the treatment, the physician measures the correct angles to define the dosage, while each sessions lasts no more than a few minutes. However, the treatment consists on numerous daily sessions, usually five times per weeks for several weeks.

Radiation therapy seems similar to getting an x-ray and it is also painless, but the radiation is considerably higher. Brachytherapy is a different type of radiation therapy, which is administered directly to inside the body. The reception of the radiation is more limited, which reduced the possibility of damages in the near healthy tissue. New techniques of radiation therapy are being researched to improve accuracy and decrease the risks. Among them is intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which is an advanced form of 3-D radiation therapy, during which the radiation is delivered through a computer-driven machine.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Radiation Therapy in Mesothelioma

Patients with mesothelioma face a poor prognosis,one-year survival rate is approximately 40 percent, while five-year survival rate is currently about 10 percent. Treatment with radiation therapy may increase survival and decrease the symptoms of the disease. However, there are also side effects that can occur due to the treatment. Acute side effects refer to skin redness, esophagitis, fatigue, and nausea, while long-term side effects include radiation pneumonitis, cardiac damage, radiation myelitis, and liver radiation damage.

“Side effects of external radiation therapy can include fatigue and sunburn-like skin problems and hair loss where the radiation enters the body. These usually go away once treatment is finished. Chest radiation therapy can damage the lungs over time and lead to trouble breathing and shortness of breath. Abdominal radiation therapy may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite,” state the American Cancer Society. In the case of radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy, the side effects tend to be worse.

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