Radiation therapy for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is not commonly used to treat childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The healthcare team will consider your child’s needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. Your child may also receive other treatments, such as chemotherapy, along with radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. Your child may have radiation therapy to:
- treat lymphoma in the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS)
- prepare for a stem cell transplant
- relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced NHL
Radiation therapy may also be used to treat the following life-threatening conditions (if chemotherapy doesn’t relieve them):
- superior vena cava syndrome
- blockage of the upper airway
- a blocked, or obstructed, organ
- spinal cord compression
External beam radiation therapy
Childhood NHL is treated with external beam radiation therapy. During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it. It is usually given 5 days a week for a few weeks.
External beam radiation therapy may also be given to the entire body in preparation for a stem cell transplant. This is called total body irradiation, or TBI.
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for childhood NHL, but every child’s experience is different. Some children have many side effects. Other children 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 these healthy cells may occur and 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, the treatment schedule and the child’s age. Some common side effects of radiation therapy used for childhood NHL are:
- skin problems
- sore mouth and throat
- taste changes
- difficulty swallowing
- nausea and vomiting
- changes in the amount and consistency of saliva
Other side effects can develop months or years after treatment for childhood NHL. Find out more about late effects for childhood NHL.
Tell the healthcare team if your child has 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 your child deal with them.
Questions to ask about radiation therapy
A group of symptoms that include coughing, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness, fainting and swelling or flushing of the neck, face and upper arms.
Superior vena cava syndrome occurs when the superior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from the head, neck, arms and chest to the heart) is compressed by a tumour or blocked by a clot.
Making progress in the cancer fight
The 5-year cancer survival rate has increased from 25% in the 1940s to 60% today.