Radiation treatment uses high energy particles to kill cancer cells and prevent them from replicating. As mesothelioma cancer cells are not contained in single discrete tumours, and due to the large area of the affected cells of the pleura, radiation therapy for pleural mesothelioma patients is a challenge. Large amounts of radiation must be administered to ensure sufficient coverage of the affected pleura, increasing the risk of radiation damage to the lungs, heart, spinal cord and/or liver. More often, radiation is used in combination with surgery (to kill any remaining cancer cells not removed or undetected) or chemotherapy (to relieve symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath). As with chemotherapy, radiation treatment will also kill healthy cells and as such side effects can be expected.
Radiation therapy is a “loco-regional” treatment. It does not affect the entire body, rather it only kills cells in the radiation field. Radiation therapy is a tool used by some oncologists to attempt to cure mesothelioma, but can also be used in the palliative setting to manage symptoms.