Radiation therapy (also called RT or radiotherapy) is not commonly used to treat leukemia. However, radiation therapy is used in some cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In ALL, radiation therapy may be administered to the whole body to destroy bone marrow in preparation for allogeneic stem cell transplant. In CLL, radiotherapy can help shrink an enlarged spleen and avoid the need for splenectomy. In both ALL and CLL, radiation therapy may be used to treat tumors in localized areas such as the brain, kidneys, bones, lymph nodes, throat, or testicles.
Radiation interferes with cell division. Since cancer cells divide much more rapidly than normal cells, they are more vulnerable to radiation. Radiation kills cancer cells, but the normal, healthy cells of your body are better able to survive and heal.
Radiotherapy is overseen by a radiation oncologist.
What does it involve?
Radiation therapy comes in two main forms, external beam radiation and internal radiation. External beam radiation is the most common form used for leukemia. In external beam radiation, beams of energy are projected from a machine into your body, carefully targeted onto the tumor.
When you arrive for your first external beam radiation appointment, the radiation therapist will take an x-ray called a port film to establish the best position for you to be in during treatment. They may make small permanent or semi-permanent marks on your skin to indicate where the beam should be targeted. Do not try to wash this off or retouch it. In each appointment, the therapist will position you carefully on the table. You will need to lie still while the radiation is delivered. Try to stay relaxed. You will not feel anything during the treatment, although gradually over several treatments, your skin in that area will develop a burn like a sunburn. This may be painful, but can be treated with topical ointments.
Radiation schedules differ based on the size, location, and type of tumor, other treatments you are receiving, and additional factors. Radiation therapy is usually delivered several days a week during the treatment period, which is usually between two and 10 weeks. Receiving the treatment takes about 30 minutes, but preparation time may take longer.
During and after radiation therapy, take extra care of your health by eating a nutritious diet, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly. These measures will help you feel your best and recover more quickly from radiotherapy. Care for your skin where it was affected by radiation by wearing loose clothing and keeping it shielded from the sun.
Radiation therapy can reduce pain by shrinking tumors. Radiation therapy helps prevent cancer from spreading locally by killing cancer cells and shrinking tumors. Administered before stem cell transplant, radiation helps make sure cancer cells are destroyed before stem cells are introduced.
Radiation therapy has been used as a treatment for cancer for more than 50 years. Newer medications and chemotherapy regimens are so effective that some researchers question whether radiation therapy still provides enough benefits to outweigh its serious potential side effects. However, newer methods of delivering radiation therapy are designed to limit side effects. More studies are needed to understand the comparative safety and effectiveness of radiation therapy and the role it should play in leukemia treatment.
Most common side effects of external beam radiation are short-term. These include fatigue, swelling, nausea, diarrhea, and skin damage similar to sunburn. These changes are usually gone within six to 12 months after external beam radiation treatment ceases but may linger for as long as two years.
Less common side effects include nerve damage that can leave parts of the body feeling painful, weak or numb.
Rare but serious side effects of external beam radiation can include damage to the heart and increased risk for developing a different type of cancer.
For more details about this treatment, visit:
Radiation Therapy for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) – American Cancer Society
CLL: Radiation Therapy – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Radiation Therapy for Leukemia – Winchester Hospital
Radiation Therapy – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society http://www.lls.org/treatment/types-of-treatment...
External Beam Radiation Therapy – American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and...