Radiotherapy treatment for pleural mesothelioma

Radiotherapy uses radiation, usually x-rays, to destroy cancer cells.

You might have radiotherapy after surgery for stage 1 pleural mesothelioma. This is called adjuvant radiotherapy. It aims to stop or delay the cancer from coming back. You might have radiotherapy to reduce the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. The treatment may also slow down the growth of your tumour.

Radiotherapy is not usually used for peritoneal mesothelioma because it causes too many side effects.

How you have it

The type and length of your radiotherapy treatment depends on the type and size of your mesothelioma, and why you are being treated.

You might have a course of intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) after surgery for early mesothelioma in the chest (pleural mesothelioma). This aims to stop the cancer coming back. IMRT machines target the treatment area very precisely.

You might have radiotherapy for advanced pleural mesothelioma if surgery is not possible. This aims to slow the cancer down and keep it under control, and to control symptoms such as pain.

Some people have a few radiotherapy treatments to the area where they had biopsies through the skin, or fluid drained from their chest. This aims to stop the mesothelioma cells growing in the scar tissue. A few small studies have shown that radiotherapy used in this way prevents this. We need more research to confirm how helpful radiotherapy is in this situation.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big and could make you feel nervous when you see them for the first time. The machine might be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. The machine doesn't touch you at any point.

Before your first treatment, your therapy radiographers Open a glossary item will explain what you will see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music while you have treatment.

Photo of a linear accelerator

During the treatment

You need to lie very still on your back. Your radiographers might take images (x-rays or scans) before your treatment to make sure that you're in the right position. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You won’t feel anything when you have the treatment.

Your radiographers can see and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. You can also talk to them through the intercom or raise your hand if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.

You won't be radioactive

This type of radiotherapy won't make you radioactive. It's safe to be around other people, including pregnant women and children.

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

You might have to travel a long way each day for your radiotherapy, depending on where your nearest cancer centre is. This can make you very tired, especially if you have side effects from the treatment.

You can ask the therapy radiographers Open a glossary item for an appointment time to suit you. They will do their best, but some departments might be very busy. Some radiotherapy departments are open from 7am till 9pm.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. You can ask the radiotherapy staff if they can give you a hospital parking permit for free parking or advice on discounted parking. They may be able to give you tips on free places to park nearby.

The radiotherapy staff may be able to arrange transport if you have no other way to get to the hospital. Your radiotherapy doctor would have to agree. This is because it is only for people that would struggle using public transport and have no access to a car. 

Some people are able to claim back a refund for healthcare travel costs. This is based on the type of appointment and whether you claim certain benefits. Ask the radiotherapy staff for more information about this.

Some hospitals have their own drivers and local charities might offer hospital transport. So do ask if any help is available in your area.

Side effects

You are unlikely to get side effects from having radiotherapy to your scar, or from radiotherapy to control your symptoms.

You may have side effects if you have a few weeks of radiotherapy treatment after surgery for early mesothelioma. The most common side effects are reddening of the skin and loss of hair in the treatment area.

Last reviewed: 
29 Jun 2021
Next review due: 
29 Jun 2024
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