Also known as radiation therapy, radiotherapy uses radiation, such as x-rays, to kill or damage cancer cells. Radiotherapy may be used at different stages of pleural mesothelioma treatment and in different ways. It can relieve pain or other symptoms caused by tumours (palliative radiotherapy).
Radiotherapy is also given after chemotherapy and surgery (adjuvant radiotherapy) to help kill remaining cancer cells. Treatment is carefully planned to destroy as many cancer cells as possible while causing the least harm to your normal tissue. The initial appointment to map out the treatment (simulation) may take a few hours. You will have CT scans of the affected area, and your skin may be marked with a special ink. This makes sure that the radiation is directed at the same place on your body every time you receive radiotherapy. Although the ink is permanent, the mark is the size of a freckle.
Radiotherapy is usually given every day Monday to Friday as an outpatient treatment. A session usually lasts about 20 minutes because the radiation therapists have to set up the equipment and position you, but the treatment itself takes only a few minutes.
The length of the treatment course will vary depending on why you’re having radiotherapy – it might involve 1–10 sessions for up to two weeks for palliative treatment, or longer if radiotherapy is combined with other treatments with the aim of long-term control. Radiotherapy doesn’t hurt and you aren’t radioactive afterwards.
Side effects of radiotherapy
Radiotherapy may cause various side effects during treatment or shortly afterwards, but most side effects go away after the treatment stops.
Your doctors and nurses will tell you what side effects to expect and how to manage them. The most common side effects are listed below.
The side effects of radiotherapy vary depending on the area of the body being treated, but can include:
- peeling, cracked skin that looks red or sunburnt and may be painful
- painful swallowing
- loss of hair in the treatment area
Radiotherapy to the chest area can cause difficulty swallowing and symptoms of reflux for a few days or weeks, sometimes leading to weight loss. If high doses of radiotherapy are given to the chest area, it may cause permanent changes (fibrosis) in the lung tissue.
Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a free copy of Understanding Radiotherapy, download a copy from this page, or see Radiotherapy.