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:
- When radiation therapy is used
- 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 it may be combined 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. In this case, the marks are put on the mask, 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. The radiation is given for 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 under a large machine called a linear accelerator (LINAC) 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.
Side effects of radiation therapy
The most common side effects of radiation therapy include:
- loss of appetite
- skin irritation
- hair loss at the treatment area.
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.
These side effects can build up towards the end of treatment, but most will be temporary. You will have regular reviews with the radiation oncologist or other team members to monitor your progress. Talk to your treatment team about any side effects that concern you.
For more on the side effects you may experience, 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.
A/Prof Christina Brown, Haematologist, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Khaled Aly, Consumer; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital; Katrina Debosz, CAR-T and Lymphoma Nurse Practitioner, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Dr Samuel Dickson, Radiation Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle; Dr Wojt Janowski, Haematologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Karen Maddock, Blood Transplant and Cell Therapy Nurse Practitioner, Westmead Hospital; Sheridan Wellings, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Talk to someone who has experienced cancer