Radiation therapy is one of the most widely used treatments for many forms of cancer. Though mesothelioma patients are rarely treated with radiation as a primary or sole form of therapy, it may help reduce the symptoms and the pain that the cancer causes.
Radiation can be used to cure cancers as well as for a palliative treatment to reduce the symptoms of the cancer. The ionizing radiation that is used is capable of destroying cancer cells and controlling their growth. Radiation is often applied to shrink tumors before surgery or along with chemotherapy to provide a better chance of both treatments working.
Internal Radiation Therapy
Brachytherapy is an internal radiation therapy in which tiny rods that contain radiation are implanted inside the body in or near the tumors. It is most commonly used for the treatment of breast and prostate cancer and cancers that affect the neck and the head. However, it can also be used as a treatment for mesothelioma.
These “seeds” of radiation are either implanted temporarily or left inside the body permanently. They are placed as closely as possible to the tumor so that the radiation harms as few normal cells as possible. These radioactive rods send radiation only short distances of about one centimeter. This method ensures that a high dose of radiation reaches the cells of the tumor while causing minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. The less healthy tissue that is damaged, the fewer the side effects there are.
A mesothelioma patient must be healthy enough to undergo surgery if brachytherapy is used since the insertion of the tiny seeds is done under general anesthesia. There are two ways in which the seeds may be implanted – intercavity or interstitial.
For intercavity treatment, the seeds are placed inside tiny containers, which are inserted into body cavities. Interstitial treatment means that the seeds are not placed in a container, but are placed into tumors using a thin needle.
Types of Brachytherapy
The two types of brachytherapy most often used for mesothelioma are temporary and permanent. With the temporary treatment, the seeds are placed inside the tumor for a short time and later removed. For permanent therapy, the seeds are never removed but the radiation production slows down and eventually stops.
Brachytherapy also is broken down further into high dose and low dose. The high dose form is applied using a catheter. The radiation seeds are placed into the tumors one at a time using regular intervals. The mesothelioma patient will usually receive 12 treatments like this over a period of two weeks or more. The low dose version is administered slowly over a few hours or a few days, but there is only one treatment.
Brachytherapy is considered to be non-invasive. Its side effects include swelling and pain at the site of the treatment. The side effects are considerably less than those for other types of radiation therapy.