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Radiation therapy is treatment with high energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. The radiation may come from outside the body (external radiation) or from radioactive materials put right into the tumor (brachytherapy).

External radiation is the preferred type for mesothelioma. It is given in the same way as an x-ray used to find a broken bone, but it takes longer. Treatments are usually given 5 days a week for several weeks.

As a rule, it is hard to treat mesothelioma with radiation. It is not easy to aim the radiation just at the cancer without affecting nearby healthy areas such as the lungs. But radiation may be used in different ways to treat mesothelioma:

  • It can be used after surgery to try to kill any small areas of cancer that could not be seen and removed during surgery.
  • It can be used to ease symptoms of mesothelioma such as shortness of breath, pain, bleeding, and trouble swallowing.

There can be side effects from radiation. Most of these will go away over time after treatment ends. The skin in the area treated may look sunburned and then become darker. You may also feel tired. Radiation to the chest may cause lung damage and lead to trouble breathing and shortness of breath. Radiation to the abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any side effects you might have. Often there are medicines or other things that can be done to help control them.

To learn more about radiation treatment, please see Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.

Last Medical Review: 10/02/2012
Last Revised: 10/02/2012