Radiotherapy for pleural mesothelioma

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. It is normally given as a series of short, daily outpatient treatments in the radiotherapy department. It uses equipment which looks similar to a large x-ray machine. Radiotherapy may be given:

  • to help relieve symptoms such as pain and breathlessness
  • alongside surgery and chemotherapy (this may be as part of a clinical trial)
  • to the chest wall at the place where a biopsy has been done or a drainage tube has been inserted. The radiotherapy may prevent the tumour from growing out through the scar – trials are looking at how effective it is.

Sometimes only one or two treatments are needed, but more often a course of treatment is given over a few days or weeks.

Planning your radiotherapy

Before you start your treatment it needs to be planned. Planning makes sure that the radiotherapy is aimed precisely at the cancer so that it causes the least possible damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. All radiotherapy treatments are planned on an individual basis by your clinical oncologist, a physicist and sometimes by a senior or specialist radiographer.

Your first planning visit will take 30–60 minutes. The staff in the radiotherapy department will explain what to expect. It‘s important for you to feel that you’re involved in your treatment, so feel free to ask as many questions as you need to.

You’ll usually have a CT (computerised tomography) scan taken of the area to be treated. You may have some marks drawn on your skin to help the radiographer to position you accurately and set where the treatment will be delivered. It’s important not to rub them off until your treatment is finished. Sometimes tiny, permanent marks are made on the skin. At the beginning of your radiotherapy you’ll be given instructions on how to look after your skin.

‘My chest started to get very tight and thick with phlegm. The radiotherapy stopped the phlegm coming up, which helped me breathe more easily.‘ Martin

MAC11672 Understanding mesothelioma E8 April 2015

Treatment sessions

At the beginning of each session of radiotherapy, the radiographer will position you carefully on the treatment couch and make sure you’re comfortable. Once you’re in the correct position the radiographers will leave the room and you’ll be given your treatment. They will tell you how long your treatment will take before you start. Radiotherapy isn’t painful, but you will have to lie still for a few minutes during the treatment.

The radiographers will be able to see you and many treatment rooms also have an intercom in the treatment room so they can talk to you during your treatment.

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Possible side effects

Radiotherapy may cause side effects but these will usually get better after treatment finishes.

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.