Sometimes, when mesothelioma is detected in a patient, palliative therapies, not curative, are recommended. One of these methods is radiation therapy, which is typically used in conjunction with chemotherapy or surgery to increase the effectiveness of treatment. Radiation works by exposing cancer growths to high-energy doses of ionizing radiation, killing the cancerous cells and preventing the spread of the disease. Radiation is given in one of two ways: internally or externally.
Internal radiation involves the radiation source being put into the body, which allows the treatment to better combat the cancer cells directly. The radiation source — typically in the form of seeds, ribbons, or capsules — is inserted into the body via a catheter or pill. However, it can also be administered as a liquid.
External radiation involves the use of radiation beams being sent through the skin to the affected area. Before the treatment is given, the patient is placed under an x-ray machine. Next, treatment is given to the exact location of the cancer by a machine called a linear accelerator. Because giving the entire treatment to kill the cancer in one dose can be dangerous, treatment is usually broken up and given five days per week over a five- to eight-week period. Often, beams will be set up from multiple angles to attack the tumor from as many directions as possible.
Radiation therapy has some side effects to consider. For starters, external radiation does not distinguish between cancerous cells and healthy cells. Consequently, this strategy can affect the healthy cells around the tumors. Doctors break the dosage down to prevent these cells from being damaged and to give them a chance to recover between treatments. This is also why the linear accelerator is positioned so precisely during the treatment.
Some safety measures need to be observed for those opting for internal radiation. Because the source is carried within the body, the patient will give off a certain degree of radiation. If radiation is given in large doses, nurses and family will sometimes be prevented from seeing the patient for too long, with the concern that they will be exposed to too much radiation.
In addition, patients may experience symptoms of radiation therapy. These include hair loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, and difficulty swallowing. The nature and severity of the symptoms depend on the size of the radiation doses, the location on the body where the treatment is given, as well as the type of radiation used.