Radiation therapy for acute lymphocytic leukemia
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. You may also receive other treatments.
Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. You may have radiation therapy to:
- the brain (called total brain irradiation) to treat leukemia that has spread to the central nervous system (CNS)
- the whole body (called total body irradiation) to prepare for a stem cell transplant
- prevent the spread of leukemia cells to the CNS, testicles or skin
- relieve pain if the leukemia has spread to an area of bone
External beam radiation therapy
External beam is the type of radiation therapy used to treat ALL. During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it.
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for ALL, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.
During radiation therapy, the healthcare team protects healthy cells in the treatment area as much as possible. But damage to healthy cells can happen and may cause side effects. Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after radiation therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after radiation therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of radiation therapy will depend mainly on the size of the area being treated, the specific area or organs being treated, the total dose of radiation and the treatment schedule. Some common side effects of radiation therapy used for ALL are:
- skin problems
- hair loss
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- low blood cell counts (called bone marrow suppression)
- neurological changes (with symptoms including memory loss, speech problems, problems with balance and coordination)
- somnolence syndrome (a group of symptoms including drowsiness, confusion, lack of energy and headache)
- earaches or difficulty hearing
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from radiation therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Questions to ask about radiation therapy
The brain and spinal cord, which work together to control all the functions of the body.
The brain receives messages (electrical signals) from nerves in the spinal cord and cranial nerves. The nerves in the spinal cord carry messages between the brain and the body.