Being diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a very specific treatment plan for your medical team to administer. Depending on the type and stage of your illness, your doctors may decide to shrink the tumors with chemotherapy, radiation or both. Usually, when your healthcare team decides to use a combination of these treatments, they’re likely to administer them in different sessions that are widely spaced apart in time.
However, CURE magazine recently highlighted the fact that a growing number of physicians are offering the different treatments at the same time. Here’s what you need to know about this discovery.
Let’s review the basic treatments for mesothelioma
When it comes to malignant pleural mesothelioma, whatever treatment a doctor recommends depends on how advanced the disease is. If the illness is caught early enough, physicians may recommend surgical removal of the pleural lining, the diaphragm, the covering of the heart or, in some cases, one entire lung.
For other patients, radiation and chemotherapy are the way to go. Radiation treatments can target areas of cancer that are inaccessible to surgery. This treatment can cause side effects such as fatigue and skin burns, but doctors are trying to minimize these problems with the help of more precise devices.
Meanwhile, chemotherapy hurts the cancer cells by breaking the inner machinery that they use to make copies of themselves. The most common drug combination for mesothelioma is pemetrexed with cisplatin. This treatment may also cause fatigue and other problems.
What do simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy do?
When chemotherapy and radiation are administered simultaneously, it’s called chemoradiotherapy. Scientists have experimented with this approach for at least 50 years. The idea is that the radiation kills tumors locally, and the chemotherapy fights metastases around the body while sensitizing the tumors to the radiation.
Here’s what Mitchell Kamrava, a radiation oncologist with the University of California, Los Angeles Health System, told CURE magazine:
“In many cases, the addition of chemotherapy to radiation actually leads to improvements in overall survival versus just using radiation alone.” he said. “We have seen this in many tumors, from the brain down to the pelvis.”
Yes, this treatment sounds pretty potent, but there are several potential benefits to CRT. In cases of head and neck cancer, CRT may be powerful enough to shrink a tumor and avoid the need for surgery, which can alter physical appearance and function.
There is also evidence that CRT is beneficial for cancers that affect the lungs, bladder, pancreas and colorectal region.
Side effects are still a problem
Both chemotherapy and radiation can cause side effects on their own. Combining them into an in-tandem treatment can, in some cases, make certain symptoms – like fatigue – more severe. Also, depending on whether radiation is targeted to the chest, head and neck, or abdominal regions, patients may develop sores or other signs of inflammation that can make it difficult to eat or digest food.
Doctors are trying to minimize these effects by using tools that allow them to modulate the amount of radiation that they use.
If you experience any side effects from therapy, don’t brush them off as par for the course. Be sure to talk to your physician, who may be able to provide some relief.