Radiotherapy for pleural mesothelioma

Radiotherapy for pleural mesothelioma may be given to help relieve symptoms or with surgery and chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy uses 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.

About radiotherapy for pleural mesothelioma

Radiotherapy for mesothelioma may be given:

You may only need 1 or 2 treatments. Or you may need a course of treatment over a few days or weeks.

Radiotherapy for mesothelioma does not make you radioactive. Throughout your treatment it is safe for you to be with other people, including children and pregnant women.

We have more information about radiotherapy and how it is planned and given.

Side effects of radiotherapy for mesothelioma

You may develop side effects while you are having your radiotherapy treatment, and for some time afterwards. These usually improve gradually over a few weeks or months after treatment finishes. Your doctor, radiographer, or nurse will tell you what to expect. Tell them about any side effects you have during or after treatment. There are often things that can be done to help.

Side effects should slowly improve after your course of treatment overfishes. But it is important to tell your doctor know if they continue.

Tiredness

Radiotherapy often makes people feel tired. Tiredness may get worse as treatment goes on. If you are having radiotherapy alongside other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy, you may feel more tired. But there are things you can do to help, such as:

  • get plenty of rest
  • do some gentle exercise, such as short walks
  • eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids
  • ask others for help with everyday jobs.

After treatment finishes, you may continue to feel tired for weeks or months. If it does not get better, tell your cancer doctor or specialist nurse.

We have more information about coping with tiredness (fatigue).

Skin reactions

Some people develop a skin reaction while having radiotherapy. How your skin reacts will depend on the amount of radiotherapy you are having. Your doctor, radiographer, or nurse will tell you how to look after your skin during and after treatment.

Difficulty swallowing

After 1 to 2 weeks of treatment, you may have difficulty swallowing. You may also have heartburn and indigestion. This happens because radiotherapy to the chest can cause inflammation in the tube that runs from your mouth to your stomach (called the oesophagus).

Tell your doctors if you have problems swallowing. They can give you medicines to help. If you do not feel like eating, or have problems swallowing, talk to your doctor or a dietitian. They may recommend you have some high-calorie drinks to help. You can get these from your GP or from most chemists.

Cough

You may develop a cough during or after radiotherapy. This usually improves within a few weeks of finishing your treatment. Always tell your doctor, radiographer, or specialist nurse if:

  • the cough does not get better
  • you develop a temperature or become short of breath, as you may have an infection.

Feeling sick

Your treatment may make you feel sick (nausea) and be sick (vomit). Tell your doctor if this happens. They can give you anti-sickness drugs (anti-emetics) to help.

Getting support

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our mesothelioma information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Woolhouse I et al. British Thoracic Society Guideline for the investigation and management of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Thorax. 2018.

    Thomas A et al. Mesothelioma. BMJ Best Practice. 2019.

    Baas P et al. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.  Annals of Oncology. 26 (Supplement 5): v31–v39. 2015. Available from: www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26223247

    Kusamara S et al. Peritoneal mesothelioma: PSOGI/EURACAN clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. European Journal of Surgical Oncology. March 2020.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr David Gilligan, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.