Healthy Living

The Link Between Lymphoma Radiotherapy and Mesothelioma

The Link Between Lymphoma Radiotherapy and Mesothelioma

One of the more common forms of treatment for lymphoma is radiotherapy. This involves using radiation to kill the cancer cells in the lymph nodes. New studies have produced concerning findings regarding radiation therapy, and point towards another induced risk of using the practice.

The Study

The study was done with data from the US Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database. Researchers at Stanford Cancer Center and consulting medical firm Exponent Inc. used the data to identify 252,090 patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 47,219 patients with Hodgkin lymphoma. They then used a standard data analysis tool to determine what percentage of irradiated and radiated patients would later go on to develop Mesothelioma (the database included patient's treatment histories).

The Results

The report found that those who had gone through radiation therapy had a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma in the future. The catch was that the risk only became significantly high decades after the radiation therapy was done. This means that in most cases, radiation therapy wouldn't increase the risk of mesothelioma until much later in a patient's lifespan. Still, this is something that medical professionals could consider when treating younger lymphoma patients.

A Closer Look at Lymphoma Treatment Options

This study gives some insight into the risk of radiation therapy on lymphoma patients. However, it is certainly not the only risk associated with radiation therapy. This is why we want to take the time to outline the benefits and dangers of different lymphoma treatments. That being said, we do want to stress that individual treatment options depend on the progression of the disease and the individual's body. This is not meant to be a substitute for a visit and discussion with your doctor, this is simply to give you a general idea of the different forms of treatment so you can know what to discuss when you do visit your doctor.

One of the biggest determining factors of treatment options is the type of Lymphoma a patient has. There are simply too many to describe here, but we will give a general distinction to two of the broadest types of lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is simply any lymphoma that does not have a specific cancer cell, the Reed-Sternberg cell, present in the infection. Hodgkin lymphoma of course does have that type of cell. The overall treatment options for both types are very similar, but the actual drugs/radiation/surgeries used will differ based on the type of treatment. With that out of the way, here are some of the most common treatment methods and their advantages and disadvantages.

Watchful Waiting

Many of those who have signs of certain cancers may believe that they should begin treatment right away. However, this is not always the case. Some medical professionals may not begin treatment right away if cancer does not become worse or show certain symptoms. This is because treatment options are expensive and may not be necessary if the cancer is dormant or inactive. This does not mean that the doctor will ignore it, however. There will be many tests done to see how the disease is acting and if it is progressing. Doctors will rarely do this, especially if there is any chance of the disease starting to progress.

  • Gives medical professionals lots of data on the behavior of your disease and how it is progressing.
  • Won't have to spend a lot of money on treatments.
  • Could be problematic if you miss a chance to treat the disease in its earliest stage (this very rarely happens though)


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells and prevent them from growing and dividing. It is the most common form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) treatment available. The drugs are usually given to patients intravenously (through an IV) or in the form of a pill or capsule that the patient takes. Chemotherapy will usually consist of rounds where the drugs will be taken for a few months, the patient will get a break for a month, and the process will repeat. The types of drugs used will depend on a number of factors including patient health, stage of the disease, and type of lymphoma.

  • Is not as invasive as other forms of treatment.
  • Is usually less expensive than other treatment options (depending on the drugs).
  • It destroys cancer and prevents it from spreading any further.
  • The drugs often have considerable short-term side effects including fatigue, lowering of blood counts, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, etc.
  • Some of the side effects can be long-term. These include a risk of infertility, a risk of secondary cancer (like mesothelioma), heart and lung damage, or possible thyroid problems later in life.
  • Chemotherapy is often a long process. Some chemotherapy rounds are done for years before cancer finally goes into remission.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high energy rays, electrons, and protons to destroy cancer tumors and cells. This is usually done by using radiation machines placed over the affected part of the body. Radiation therapy is usually done in addition to chemotherapy. It tends to be used mainly when the cancer is localized (only in certain parts of the body) or if one lymph node is worse off than the others.

  • Very effective in destroying the cancer cells.
  • It can reduce pain in the radiated area.
  • Is usually done less frequently than other treatments.
  • It tends to be very expensive.
  • It is only effective when cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Radiation can cause some short-term effects like skin reactions, dryness, fatigue, nausea, hair loss, or inflammation.
  • Radiation can cause longer-term effects like developing secondary cancer, becoming infertile, or having permanent inflammation or damage.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted Therapy involves targeting cancer's specific genes, proteins, or tissues. For NHL, this usually involves monoclonal antibodies that attach to certain cells that have proteins that are present in most lymphoma cancer cells.

  • Prevents cancer cells from spreading or growing.
  • It is extremely effective when properly done.
  • It is a relatively new form of treatment, so the drugs tend to be more expensive.
  • Drugs tend to have side effects ranging from short term to long term. Talk to your doctor about specific side effects if using targeted therapy.
  • If the cancer cells don't have any obvious genes or proteins to target, targeted therapy is not nearly as effective.

Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplant

Some patients get stem cells or bone marrow transplants to get highly specialized hematopoietic stem cells. This is one of the most aggressive forms of treatment and will typically only be done if the lymphoma is spreading or getting towards a later stage. There are two types of stem cell transplants: allogeneic (ALLO) or autologous (AUTO). Allogenic transplants take the stem cells from a healthy individual (a sibling or matched donor ideally). The idea is that the transplanted cells will recognize and destroy the patient's lymphoma cells. This is the more aggressive and dangerous form of transplant, as the cells could falsely recognize and destroy healthy cells and tissue. Autologous transplants use the patient's own cells after numerous drugs have been inserted into particular cells to destroy cancer. The cells are then transplanted back into the body once they are cancer-free.

  • Has a fairly high success rate.
  • Prevents cancer from spreading and recurring.
  • It can treat later stages of lymphoma that may be resistant to most treatments.
  • Has some particularly dangerous side effects involving the transplant.
  • Doctors have to find a sibling or match that is willing to donate bone marrow.

Final Thoughts

Lymphoma treatments can vary, and doctors may have patients go through more than one at a time. Each treatment option has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages, and these should be discussed with your doctor when building your treatment plan. For more information on lymphoma and lymphoma treatments, visit the rest of our website.