Patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma face a grim prognosis. The rare and fatal form of cancer makes itself known decades after the victim is exposed to asbestos, and by the time it is diagnosed is generally too far advanced for meaningful or effective treatment. The most common approach taken by mesothelioma physicians is a multi-modality protocol that includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This is true whether the patient opts for a curative approach meant to extend their survival time or a palliative approach that is meant to provide them with relief from discomfort and the highest quality of life possible. In their continuing search for improved medical offerings, radiation oncologists are now taking a closer look at the role that radiation therapy can play, particularly in the areas of slowing the return of cancer cells after surgery and of relieving pain.
Speaking of radiation therapy’s role in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, Marc de Perrot, MD of Toronto General Hospital in Ontario, Canada said, “Over the past 15 years there has been a major shift in the role of radiotherapy for the treatment of mesothelioma. Increasing evidence has supported that mesothelioma is sensitive to radiotherapy treatment.” He and his colleagues go on to caution that the protocol’s exact role remains to be seen.
One of the challenges radiation therapy professionals face in treating mesothelioma lies in the location of the tumors, which infiltrate the lung pleura. Because physicians do not want to risk radiation damaging healthy tissue, they have been conservative in their use of radiation, but now that the technology has allowed pinpoint targeting and modulation of dosage, its use has gained potential for safe use.
To that end, the American Society of Clinical Oncologists has recently issued new guidelines in the use of radiotherapy for patients with mesothelioma. Included in those recommendations are clearer communication with patients regarding what they can expect from radiation therapy, and the use of radiation therapy when mesothelioma tumors are present, whether they are symptomatic or not.
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