Canadian Cancer Society logo

Acute lymphocytic leukemia

You are here: 

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)central nervous system (CNS)The brain and spinal cord, which work together to control all the functions of the body.
  • 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

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:

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

Find out more about radiation therapy and side effects of radiation therapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about radiation therapy.

Stories

Lusomé Founder and CEO Lara Smith Seeing my sister Erin – a young mother – struggle with the emotional blow and then the physical toll of cancer treatment made me want to do something to help women feel confident.

Read Lara's story

Establishing a national caregivers strategy

Illustration of caregivers

The Canadian Cancer Society is actively lobbying the federal government to establish a national caregivers strategy to ensure there is more financial support for this important group of people.

Learn more