Radiation therapy is the use of high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer
cells. Radiation therapy is often used for the treatment of cancer, such as
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL),
Hodgkin's lymphoma, and all
types of leukemia. Radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with
other treatment options, such as
Radiation may be given in different ways. For lymphoma or leukemia, the way radiation is given depends on the type and stage of cancer being treated.
- With external radiation, X-rays from a machine are aimed at the part of the body with the cancer.
- With targeted radiation, monoclonal antibodies are injected into the blood and deliver radiation directly to the cancer cells. This is done by making a medicine in which a radioactive form of an element (such as iodine) is attached to a monoclonal antibody.
- With whole-body radiation, the entire body gets radiation. This may be done if a person is getting a stem cell transplant.
Side effects are common but generally go away when treatment is
finished. They include:
- Low blood counts, which may increase the risk
of infection and bleeding.
- Redness and itching
of the skin in the radiation field. The skin may look as though you have a bad
- Hair loss in the area inside the radiation
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea if the belly or pelvis is
For non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), radiation may be used alone or in combination
with other treatment options, such as chemotherapy. Radiation is also
palliative care if chemotherapy is not
When used to treat
chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), radiation therapy
is usually given to relieve pain from either an enlarged
lymph nodes .
Radiation therapy is used to help keep an acute leukemia from
spreading to the central nervous system (CNS prophylaxis). It is also used to
treat recurrent leukemia that has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
For some stages of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
(NHL), radiation therapy works well when used alone. But it may be used in combination with chemotherapy, depending on the type and the stage of the cancer.
The short-term side effects of radiation therapy are common but usually get better
and go away when treatments stop. These side effects depend on the area of the body
affected by treatments and may include:
- Low blood counts, which may increase your risk
of infection or bleeding.
- Redness and irritation in the
- A dry mouth and trouble swallowing.
- Changes in taste.
- Nausea or
- Hair loss in
the treatment area. Whether your hair grows back depends on the area treated,
the dose of radiation, and the type of radiation used.
of the skin.
The long-term side effects of radiation therapy depend on what part of your body was treated, how much radiation you were given, and how long your treatment lasted. For example, radiation therapy to the pelvis may cause permanent
sterility. Other long-term side effects may include brain changes, joint problems, lymphedema, mouth problems, and other cancers. These side effects depend on whether you also had chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy to the pelvis may cause permanent sterility.
Discuss fertility options with your doctor before you begin pelvic
radiation for NHL or CLL.
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.