- How Radiation Therapy Works
- Types of Radiation
- Methods of Radiation
- Complications and Common Side Effects
How Radiation Therapy Works
Radiation is a form of energy. High doses of radiation can damage the DNA in cells and even kill cells. Cell mutations can also result from exposure to radiation and lead to cancer. That’s why exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or nuclear radiation from power plants can cause cancer. Ironically, radiation can also be used to kill cancer. Radiation therapy, however, is a local therapy that targets specific areas of the body. Doctors can hone in on tumors with a great degree of accuracy and for the most part spare healthy tissue. Cancer cells, furthermore, have greater sensitivity to radiation than most normal cells due to their rapid growth and division and limited ability to repair their DNA. Some damage to healthy cells from radiation therapy is virtually inevitable. Patients undergoing radiation therapy can therefore expect some complications and side effects. Side effects typically subside once treatment is over, and your doctor can recommend ways to help control symptoms.
Types of Radiation Therapy
Radiation alone is unlikely to completely eradicate mesothelioma, but it may be used in combination with surgery in an attempt to eliminate the disease or used to relieve symptoms, improve quality of life, and prolong survival.
Adjuvant radiation is given after surgery for stages I through III patients as a means of killing any small areas of remaining cancer cells. This option may be effective for those facing a high risk of recurrence. It can also be used after surgery and in conjunction with chemotherapy for stages I through III patients. Radiation therapy is less commonly given prior to surgery. The “SMART” (Surgery for Mesothelioma After Radiation Therapy) trial evaluated the feasibility of radiation therapy followed by extrapleural pneumonectomy and the results were encouraging.
Palliative radiation can be used for advanced stage patients as a means of relieving the typical symptoms—such as bleeding, pain, shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing—that come with mesothelioma.