Mesothelioma pain control is essential for being able to live every moment to the fullest. To do that it is essential that your medical team help you manage mesothelioma pain (Pain management is also called palliative care). The goal of mesothelioma pain control is simply to relieve pain, reduce symptoms and optimize the quality of life. As the illness progresses, pain may unfortunately increase and may not respond to the usual pain medications. An alternative to consider with your physician is radiation therapy.
Why Mesothelioma Pain Control Works With Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation damages the genetic material inside the cells in the area being treated. This makes it impossible for the cells to continue to grow. Radiation can damage normal cells as well as cancer cells, but the normal cells repair themselves. The cancer cells do not.
Radiation can help with mesothelioma pain control by destroying a growing tumor that is invading or interfering with normal tissue. Pain results when a tumor presses on bones, nerves, or other organs and destroying the tumor with radiation can relieve this pain. This may be done with radiation to part of the body or, in rare cases, with radiation to the whole body. Another method uses injections with radioactive medicine. Often only a single treatment is needed to relieve pain.
Possible Side Effects of Radiation for Mesothelioma Pain Control
While mesothelioma pain control is an important goal, the possible side effects common to radiation therapy need to be anticipated. These side effects usually go away after radiation therapy is over and in some instances, can be minimized with medication.
Side effects may include:
- Loss of hair near a treated area
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Appetite loss
- Reddened or darkened skin in the area exposed to a beam of radiation
- Sore throat (with neck or chest radiation)
Mesothelioma Pain Control with Two Types of Radiation Therapy
Mesothelioma pain control is treated with either of two types of radiation therapy:
- External radiation beam therapy
- Internal radiation therapy with radioactive injections
External radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation treatment. The radiation beam is directed at the area affected by mesothelioma from outside the body. It is similar to having an X-ray taken. You may have a single treatment or a series of daily treatment sessions every one to two weeks.
You can’t feel the radiotherapy. It doesn’t hurt but you may find it uncomfortable to lie in one position for the duration of the treatment. You can ask your doctor or nurse if you can take a pain reliever half an hour before your appointment if you think it might help.
Internal radiation therapy may be suggested by your oncologist. This involves an injection of a very small amount of radioactive material. The treatment is targeted to where you need it most. It is only a small amount but can work well for mesothelioma pain control.
How well does radiation therapy control mesothelioma pain?
Mesothelioma pain control with radiation therapy generally achieves good results. It may take several weeks to work fully.
Some studies report that about 3 out of 10 people (30%) will have no pain within a month of radiotherapy treatment. For at least another 4 out of 10 (40%) people, the treatment reduces the pain by half. That means about 7 out of 10 people (70%) experience anywhere from no pain to half as much pain after radiotherapy treatment.
It typically takes between one and four weeks for radiation therapy to start to reduce pain. The pain relief may last for up to 18 months.
You will need to keep taking pain relief medication at first. But within a few weeks, you may be able to cut down on the amount of pain medication you take. Ask your doctor or nurse about how to safely reduce your pain medication as the radiotherapy treatment results take effect.
If your first course of mesothelioma pain control radiation therapy doesn’t work well, your doctor may recommend that you have a second course. You may also have a second course if the pain gets better, but then comes back again.