Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is one of the commonly used conventional medical methods of treating mesothelioma. Most mesothelioma patients will undergo radiation therapy at one stage or the other of their treatment and it is better for you to be well informed about this form of treatment so that you can get the maximal benefit out of it. These are some commonly asked questions about radiotherapy:
-What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy makes use of high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons to destroy or damage cancer cells. This form of cancer therapy is also known as radiotherapy, irradiation, or x-ray therapy.
Radiation therapy is commonly used for the treatment of mesothelioma cancer. Radiation can be given alone or combined with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy. And sometimes patients get more than one type of radiation therapy.
How does radiation therapy work?
Cancer cells divide and multiply more rapidly than the normal body cells. Radiation therapy uses special equipment to deliver high doses of radiation to these rapidly dividing cancer cells. This radiation kills these cells and stop them from multiplying, thus preventing the tumor from spreading.
Radiation targets and breaks a piece of the DNA molecule in the cancer cell, thus preventing the cell from multiplying. Some nearby normal cells may be affected by radiation, but most fully recover from the effects of the treatment and go back to working the way they are supposed to.
Radiation therapy is usually a local treatment and it is only the part of the body that is affected by the tumor that is exposed to the radiation. The goal of radiation treatment is to damage as many cancer cells as possible, with little harm to nearby healthy tissue.
Occasionally radioactive substances may be given in a vein or by mouth, and the radioactive substance gets to travel throughout the body, but most of the time , it is only the part of the body affected by the tumor that is exposed to radioactive substance so that there is little effect on the rest of the body.
Do the benefits outweigh the risks and side effects?
Although mesothelioma cancer is can hardly ever be cured by any form of treatment, radiotherapy if given in combination with other forms of treatment like surgery and chemotherapy it can prolong the lifespan of the patient and radiotherapy can also be used to offer palliative treatment for advanced mesothelioma cases.
How much does radiation treatment cost?
Radiotherapy is very expensive, it involves the use of very sophisticated equipments which can only be handled by highly specialized medical personnel. The exact cost of your radiation therapy will depend on the type and number of treatments you need.
Most health insurance plans, including Medicare Part B, cover the charges for radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor's office staff or the hospital business office about your health plan and how your bills for treatment will be paid.
In some states, Medicaid (which makes health care services available to people with financial need) may help pay for treatments. Call your city or county social services office to find out if you qualify for Medicaid and if radiation therapy is a covered expense.
-Who gives radiation treatments?
There are different types of medical personnel that will be involved in administering radiotherapy to you. These personnel include:
• Radiation oncologist: A doctor specially trained to treat cancer patients with radiation. He or she is in charge of your radiation treatment plan.
• Radiation physicist: The person who makes sure the radiation equipment is working as it should and gives you the dose prescribed by your radiation oncologist.
• Dosimetrist: Supervised by the radiation physicist, this person helps the radiation oncologist plan the treatment.
• Radiation therapist or radiation therapy technologist: This person operates the radiation equipment and positions you for treatment.
• Radiation therapy nurse: A nurse with special training in cancer treatment who can give you information about radiation treatment and side effects.
You may also need the services of a dietitian, physical therapist, social worker, dentist or dental oncologist, or other health care professionals.
How is radiation therapy given?
Radiation therapy can be given in 3 ways: as external radiation, as internal radiation, or as systemic radiation. In some cases more than one type of therapy is used.
External radiation (or external beam radiation) uses a machine that directs high-energy rays from outside the body into the tumor and some normal nearby tissue. Most people get external radiation therapy over many weeks. It is done during outpatient visits to a hospital or treatment center.
Internal radiation therapy (also called brachytherapy) uses a radioactive source in the form of a wire, seed, or pellet that is called an implant. The implant is put inside the body in or near the tumor. The radiation from the implant travels only a short distance, so it has very little effect on normal body tissues. In some cases, patients may need to stay in the hospital while getting internal radiation.
Sometimes, after a tumor has been removed by surgery, radioactive implants are put into the area where the tumor was to kill any tumor cells that may still be there.
Implants may either be left in the patient as a permanent implant or they may be removed after a certain amount of time.
Systemic radiation is another type of internal radiation therapy.
Radiopharmaceuticals are used for this treatment. Radiopharmaceuticals are radioactive drugs used to treat certain types of cancer, such as thyroid cancer or cancer that has spread to the bone (bone metastases). These drugs are unsealed radioactive sources that can be given by mouth or by injection, which then travel throughout the body. Treatment with radiopharmaceuticals often requires a brief time in the hospital.