Radiation therapy is a treatment that is usually used in combination with surgery and chemotherapy. Although, it is used sometimes on it’s own to target and kill cancerous cells, manage tumors and it help to stop cancer from spreading along the path of the incision.
Recent data shows that surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation together helps to kill cancer cells. Although oncologists have been using radiation treatment to help treat cancer for many years, technology has made it a more refined treatment. Radiation directed at tumors work by stunting the growth of tumors without some of the other serious side effects caused by chemotherapy.
Radiation is noninvasive. Gamma rays or X-ray beams are used to directly target tumors that are malignant. The treatment lasts up to 10 minutes while the patient lies still and the radiation targets the cancerous tumor. The patient is ready to leave the office within 30 minutes.
The combination of chemotherapy and radiation increased remission by 50 percent in patients with stage 1-3 mesothelioma.
Types of Radiation
Different types of radiation are used on patients with mesothelioma. The doctor takes into consideration the size of the tumor, the metastasis, staging, and the general health of the patient. Radiation is broken down into two general types. External beam radiation and intraoperative radiation.
External Beam Radiation
External beam radiation targets malignant cells in the body and eliminates them or slows their growth. It is the most widely used, as well as the oldest form of radiation therapy.
A beam of radiation is administered by a machine which slowly moves around the body without ever touching it. The beam of radiation is directed to the affected part of the body that contains the tumor. This procedure is administered five times a week from one week up to several weeks. The length of the therapy as well as the dosage will depend on factors including the type of cancer, its size and location. This procedure itself is painless. Side effects may include skin problems, fatigue, oral cavity inflammation and dry mouth.
The dose of radiation being administered to the patient is very high and is unable to reach only the parts of the body where the tumor is located, thus healthy cells are often affected as well.
External radiation methods:
- X-ray radiation
- CT scan radiation
- 3D conformal radiation
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
The use of radiation therapy, combined with chemotherapy has improved the patient’s life expectancy significantly.
Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT)
IORT radiation therapy administers radiation during surgery directly to tumors. When administered this way, doctors can avoid directing radiation through healthy tissue. This type of radiation therapy is used on patients who are in the early stages of mesothelioma.
Brachytherapy is another type of radiation treatment that kills cancerous cells with minimal damage to healthy cells. During surgery, a small radioactive rod is planted into the tumor. This is not yet standardized treatment but has shown to be effective in treating lung cancer. The material will slowly lose radioactivity over time.
Managing The Pain From Mesothelioma
Maintaining quality of life is important for mesothelioma patients. Managing these symptoms reduces stress and can improve mood. The treatment methods that manage pain and the other symptoms of mesothelioma are called palliative treatments. Palliative treatments include pain relief drugs as well as procedures that will decrease nausea and help a patient’s ability to breath.
Patients who begin palliative care early and manage their symptoms and pain level are less anxious and less depressed. This increases their quality of life during treatment and after.
Doctors use a variety of methods to help a patient manage their pain. Pain medication is the most common method, but surgery and radiation are commonly used as well. Please note that every medication and treatment that is either used for curative or palliative purposes can also result in side effects. Make sure you speak with your mesothelioma specialist about all possible outcomes.
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are prescribed during the early stages of mesothelioma and as the pain increases doctors prescribe stronger painkillers. Nerve blocks are administered to patients that need relief to specific areas of the body. Antidepressants may also be prescribed for anxiety, stress, and depression. Other medications include vitamin supplements, and medicine to fight fatigue and nausea.
Palliative surgeries are options that help relieve pain. Each type of mesothelioma has a surgical procedure that drains fluid which is responsible for the tightness and pressure that leads to pain. Pain after the surgery itself can be painful and the healing process can take weeks. Doctors provide medication to relieve pain.
When used to shrink tumors that cause pain, radiation is used as a palliative measure. As tumors spread and grow they push against other organs in the body which causes pain and soreness.
Searching For A Cure
Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma. However, there has been significant progress toward finding a cure which has brought about new developments in prevention and treatment. These developments have allowed patients to live longer and healthier lives.
Research is ongoing worldwide and researchers are starting new trials that help with early detection. The treatment options have also doubled in the last decade. Patients who are diagnosed early have a stronger likelihood to survive for years if the cancer is treated early and with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
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