Radiation therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) uses radiation to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. The radiation is usually in the form of x-ray beams. Your treatment will be carefully planned and precisely targeted to the parts of the body affected by lymphoma. The aim is to do as little harm as possible to your healthy cells.
Learn more about:
- How radiation therapy is used for non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Having radiation therapy
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Video: What is radiation therapy
Radiation therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be used on its own or after chemotherapy:
- to treat some early-stage, low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphomas
- in certain circumstances in combination with chemotherapy (known as chemoradiation)
- to treat a specific tumour that is growing rapidly, bleeding or causing pain, which sometimes happens after chemotherapy has stopped working
- as part of an allogeneic transplant.
Before starting treatment, the radiation therapist may make some small permanent tattoos or temporary marks on your skin so that the same area is targeted during each treatment session.
If you are having radiation therapy to your head or neck region, the radiation therapist may also fit you with a plastic mask called an immobilisation mask. This keeps your head and neck in the exact same position every day, and the marks are put on the shell, not on the skin of your face or neck. If you have issues with claustrophobia, let the radiation therapist know at the planning appointment.
The course of treatment will depend on the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and your general health. You will usually have treatment as an outpatient once a day, Monday to Friday, for about 3–4 weeks. Each session takes only a few minutes, but it can take longer to set up the equipment and wait for your appointment. The radiation oncologist will discuss your treatment schedule with you.
During treatment, you will lie alone in a room under a large machine called a linear accelerator that delivers x-ray beams to the area being treated. Imaging scans are taken throughout the treatment course so that the radiation therapy team can monitor your response to treatment. Radiation therapy is painless, and you should not feel any discomfort during the sessions.
Side effects of radiation therapy
The most common side effects of radiation therapy are tiredness, loss of appetite, skin irritation and hair loss at the treatment area. These side effects can build up towards the end of the course of treatment, but most will be temporary. You will have regular reviews with the radiation oncologist or other team members to monitor your progress and support you.
Other side effects will depend on the part of the body being treated. For example, radiation therapy to the abdomen may cause an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhoea and infertility; while radiation therapy to the neck can make your mouth and throat sore and dry, cause difficulty swallowing, and affect your sense of taste. Talk to your treatment team about any side effects that concern you.
For more on the side effects you may experience, talk to your doctor, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or see Radiation Therapy.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Ian Bilmon, Haematologist, Westmead and Sydney Adventist Hospitals; Dr Anne Capp, Radiation Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle; Rachelle Frith, Clinical Nurse Consultant Haematology, Prince of Wales Hospital; Jason Gardner, Consumer; A/Prof Angela Hong, Radiation Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Samantha Rennie, Social Worker, Cancer Services, St George Hospital. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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