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Radiation therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). 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:
- if chemotherapy doesn’t shrink an enlarged spleen enough to relieve pressure on the surrounding organs or to improve blood cell counts
- to relieve an area of bone pain
- to shrink enlarged lymph nodes in one area of the body
External beam radiation therapy
Low-dose external beam radiation therapy is used to treat CLL. 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 CLL, 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 CLL are:
- skin problems
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- low blood cell counts (called bone marrow suppression)
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
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The 5-year cancer survival rate has increased from 25% in the 1940s to 60% today.