Side effects of radiotherapy for pleural mesothelioma

You are unlikely to get side effects from radiotherapy to control your symptoms. You might have side effects if you have a few weeks of radiotherapy treatment after surgery for pleural mesothelioma. The most common side effects are reddening of the skin and loss of hair in the treatment area.

Side effects tend to start a few days after the radiotherapy begins. They gradually get worse during treatment. They can continue to get worse after your treatment ends. But they usually begin to improve 1 or 2 weeks after your treatment ends.

Everyone is different and the side effects vary from person to person. You may not have all of the effects mentioned. Side effects can include: 

Your skin might go red or darker in the treatment area. You might also get slight redness or darkening on the other side of your body. This is where the radiotherapy beams leave the body. 

The red or darker areas can feel sore. This may start after your radiotherapy treatment is completed. Your radiographers may give you creams to soothe your skin. The soreness usually goes away within 2 to 4 weeks of ending the treatment. But your skin might always be slightly darker in that area.

Tell the radiotherapy staff if you notice any skin changes.

Radiotherapy causes tiredness.

Tiredness starts during your course of treatment. It usually lasts for about a week after your treatment has finished and then gradually gets better.

You might also feel weak and lack energy. Staying active can help.

You may lose some body hair in the treatment area. This may grow back a few weeks after treatment finishes. But it doesn’t always. Your doctor will talk to you about this before you start treatment.

Other side effects

Some of the side effects you may have depend on which part of your chest is being treated. If it is:

  • your lower chest, you may feel sick or have diarrhoea
  • your upper chest, you may develop a dry sore throat

These side effects are usually controllable with anti sickness or anti diarrhoea medicines. Ask your radiotherapy doctor for these if you need them. Any side effects tend to get worse towards the end of your treatment. Then they gradually clear up after it has finished.

While you are having radiotherapy, your radiographer or a physiotherapist may ask you to do particular exercises. These exercises help to prevent stiffness and aching in your chest and shoulder, which some people get after their treatment ends.

  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    S. Popat and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2022 Volume 33, Issue 2, Pages 129 – 142

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D
    Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

Last reviewed: 
23 Jun 2023
Next review due: 
23 Jun 2026

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