Radiation therapy plays a significant role in the treatment of various types of blood cancers, including lymphomas and some types of leukemia. Here’s what to expect when undergoing radiation therapy for blood cancer:

Overview of Radiation Therapy

  1. Purpose:
    • Targeted Treatment: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells or inhibit their growth. It specifically targets areas of the body affected by cancer, such as lymph nodes or specific sites in the bone marrow.
  2. Types of Blood Cancers Treated:
    • Hodgkin Lymphoma: Radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy, depending on the stage and location of the cancer.
    • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: It can be used as part of the treatment regimen for localized or bulky disease, often combined with chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
    • Leukemia: In certain cases, radiation therapy may be used to target specific areas where leukemia cells have spread, such as the brain or spinal cord.

Process of Radiation Therapy

  1. Treatment Planning:
    • Simulation: Before treatment begins, a simulation session is conducted to precisely map out the treatment area. This involves imaging scans (like CT or MRI) and may include marking the skin to ensure accurate positioning during each treatment session.
    • Customized Treatment Plan: Radiation oncologists and medical physicists develop a personalized treatment plan based on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the location and size of the tumor(s).
  2. Delivery of Radiation:
    • Sessions: Radiation therapy is typically administered daily over several weeks, with each session lasting a few minutes. The total number of sessions and the duration of treatment depend on factors such as the type of cancer and the goal of therapy.
    • External Beam Radiation: Most often, radiation is delivered externally using a machine that directs beams of radiation precisely at the targeted area from outside the body.
    • Internal Radiation (Brachytherapy): In some cases, radioactive materials may be placed directly into or near the cancerous tissue. This is less common in blood cancers but may be used in specific situations.

What to Expect During Treatment

  • Painless Procedure: Radiation therapy itself is painless. Patients lie still on a treatment table while the machine delivers radiation precisely to the targeted area.
  • Minimal Disruption: Treatment sessions are typically outpatient procedures, allowing patients to return home shortly afterward.
  • Potential Side Effects: Side effects can vary depending on the location and dose of radiation, but common ones include fatigue, skin changes (like redness or irritation), and temporary hair loss if the treatment area includes the scalp.

Managing Side Effects

  • Skin Care: Gentle cleansing and moisturizing of the treated area can help minimize skin reactions. Avoiding sun exposure and wearing loose, soft clothing can also reduce discomfort.
  • Fatigue: Resting when needed and maintaining a balanced diet can help manage fatigue associated with radiation therapy.
  • Nutritional Support: Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can support overall health and aid in recovery.

Follow-Up Care

  • Monitoring: Regular follow-up visits with your radiation oncologist and hematologist/oncologist are essential to monitor treatment response, manage side effects, and address any concerns.
  • Long-Term Effects: Discuss potential long-term effects of radiation therapy with your healthcare team, such as the risk of secondary cancers or changes in the treated area over time.


Radiation therapy is a valuable treatment option for blood cancers, often used in combination with other therapies to target cancerous cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues. Understanding what to expect during radiation therapy, including the treatment process, potential side effects, and supportive care measures, can help patients and their caregivers prepare effectively and make informed decisions about their treatment journey. Always consult with your healthcare team to discuss individualized treatment plans and expectations based on your specific diagnosis and overall health.

By Sue