Cancer Home > Radiation Therapy for Hodgkin's

Radiation therapy for Hodgkin's disease involves the use of high-energy x-rays or other radiation to kill the cells that are causing the cancer. There are two types of radiation therapy used to treat Hodgkin's disease: external and systemic. Side effects of receiving radiation therapy for Hodgkin's disease may include fatigue, nausea, and difficulty swallowing.

Radiation Therapy for Hodgkin's: An Overview

Radiation therapy for Hodgkin's (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays or other forms of radiation to kill Hodgkin's lymphoma cells. It can shrink tumors and help control pain.
There are two types of radiation therapy used for Hodgkin's disease treatment:
  • External radiation: A large machine aims the rays at the part of the body where lymphoma cells have collected. This is considered local therapy because it affects only the cells in the treated area. Most people go to a hospital or clinic for treatment five days a week for several weeks.
  • Systemic radiation: Some people with lymphoma receive an injection of radioactive material that travels throughout the body. The radioactive material is bound to antibodies that seek out lymphoma cells, destroying them.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Hodgkin's Disease

The side effects of radiation therapy for Hodgkin's disease depend on the treatment dose and the part of the body that is treated. During radiation therapy people are likely to become extremely tired, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Rest is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay as active as they can.
It is common to lose hair in the treated area and for the skin to become red, dry, tender, and itchy. There may also be permanent darkening or "bronzing" of the skin in the treated area. When the chest and neck are treated, patients may have a dry, sore throat and some trouble swallowing. Sometimes, they have shortness of breath or a dry cough. Radiation therapy for Hodgkin's to the abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or urinary discomfort. Often, changes in diet or medicine can ease these problems.
Radiation therapy also may cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells (cells that help protect the body against infection) or platelets (cells that help the blood to clot). If that happens, patients need to be careful to avoid possible sources of infection or injury. The doctor monitors a patient's blood count very carefully during radiation treatment. If necessary, treatment may have to be postponed to let the blood counts return to normal.
Although the side effects of radiation therapy for Hodgkin's can be difficult to live with, they can usually be treated or controlled. It may also help to know that, in most cases, side effects are not permanent. However, patients may want to discuss with their doctor the possible long-term effects of radiation treatment on fertility (the ability to produce children) and the increased chance of second cancers after treatment is over
Loss of fertility may be temporary or permanent, depending on if the testes or ovaries received radiation, as well as the patient's age. For men, sperm banking before treatment may be a choice. Women's menstrual periods may stop, and they may have hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Menstrual periods are more likely to return for younger women.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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