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What to Know About Radiation Therapy for Malignant Mesothelioma

Radiation therapy is one way to treat malignant mesothelioma. This treatment is also called radiotherapy. It uses X-rays to control the growth of cancer cells.

Radiation is a local treatment. That means it affects the cancer cells only in the area treated.

You may have radiation as your only treatment or with other treatments. For example, radiation is becoming more common after surgery if your lung was removed. Radiation may also help ease pain caused by the cancer.

For this treatment, you see a radiation oncologist. This doctor specializes in the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. This doctor decides how often you need radiation and at what dose.

There are 2 types of radiation therapy. The type of radiation you get depends on the type and stage of the cancer. You get 1 type of radiation externally, from a machine outside the body. The experience is a lot like getting an X-ray, only it takes longer. This is the type of radiation used most often to treat mesothelioma. 

You get the other type of radiation therapy internally. Your doctor places radioactive pellets in or near the cancer. Your doctor may suggest this kind of radiation as your main treatment if you are not strong enough to have surgery.

Potential side effects of radiation therapy

Radiation affects both normal cells and cancer cells. This means it can cause side effects. These are the side effects that are common to all people who get radiation, no matter what area of the body is being treated:

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Skin reactions or irritations and hair loss at the site where radiation enters the body

  • Upset stomach

  • Loose bowel movements

  • Cough or shortness of breath 

If you receive radiation to your chest, you may have shortness of breath or trouble breathing. If you develop these symptoms in the weeks or months after radiation is complete, it can occasionally be a sign of late inflammation from radiation treatments (called radiation pneumonitis). Make sure you notify your doctor if you develop these symptoms at any point, even if it occurs many months after you have finished radiation. 

If you have radiation to your abdomen, you may have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Usually these side effects go away when treatment ends. If you are getting chemotherapy at the same time, radiation can make the side effects of it worse.