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Role for New Radiation Technology in Treating Mesothelioma Patients

Lung Cancer

Radiation is one of the standard treatments for mesothelioma patients, though the cancer is famously difficult to diagnose and treat. Mesothelioma is caused by inhaling or swallowing asbestos dust and affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen.

Australian researchers presented the results of new research at the European Lung Cancer Conference suggesting that radiation was the most effective treatment for patients with mesothelioma confined to one side of the chest.

Dr. Malcolm Feigen, who led the research, said that many physicians believed that mesothelioma is resistant to radiation unless the doses are so high as to be toxic, but the research findings suggested it is an effective treatment.

“Our experience provides clear evidence that radiation is arguably the most effective single agent for mesothelioma,” Dr. Feigen said in a prepared statement issued by the 3rd European Lung Cancer Conference, held in Geneva.

Advances in radiation technology have made it possible to treat tumors more precisely.

Between 2003 and 2011, Dr. Feigen and fellow researchers at Austin Health Radiation Oncology Center in Melbourne, Australia treated 45 mesothelioma patients aged 45 to 74 with radiation to one side of the chest. The radiation was administered using intensity modulated radiotherapy or 3-D conformal radiation, both newer techniques.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy or IMRT allows doctors to focus a beam of high dose radiation at a specific target such as a tumor while sparing surrounding tissue. Modulating the intensity of the beam minimizes the dose beyond the tumor. Meanwhile, three dimensional conformal radiation therapy, which is similar to IMRT, allow the beams of radiation to be shaped to match the tumor, allowing the use of higher levels of radiation in treatment.

Feigen said new technologies such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy allow higher doses of radiation to be delivered safely. There were no life threatening or fatal toxic side effects from the treatment.

At the outset of treatment, more than 80 percent of the patients had more advanced stage III and IV mesothelioma and all but two had previously had chemotherapy and/or surgery. None had undergone surgery to remove a lung, a procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy.

The patients lived from two months to 87 months after starting radiation treatment, the researchers reported. The median survival of the patients was 12.4 months.

Mesothelioma strikes 2,500 to 3,000 people in the United States each year. Most sufferers are older workers, retired workers or veterans who were exposed to asbestos fibers in a workplace. Asbestos manufacturers failed to warn of the dangers posed by products containing asbestos, though the health hazards were known.

The symptoms of mesothelioma take decades to appear after asbestos exposure. Patients often have more advanced cancer before doctors diagnose the disease.

For more information about mesothelioma, visit Mesothelioma Help.

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