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Radiation therapy uses strong X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. There are different types of radiation therapy. The therapy is used in several ways. It depends on the type and location of the cancer. For Hodgkin lymphoma, the radiation is directed at the cancer from a machine outside of your body. This is called external radiation therapy.
Your doctor may advise radiation as the main treatment if you:
Have a type of lymphoma that is only in one place in your body
Have lymphoma in a few places that are close to each other
Radiation is also often part of the treatment for most other Hodgkin lymphomas. Most people who have radiation for Hodgkin lymphoma have already had a successful short course of chemotherapy.
Radiation may be part of your treatment if you are having a stem cell transplant. In this case, radiation is given to most of your body over a short period of time. This is known as total body irradiation.
Two forms of external radiation therapy are most common. Many doctors prefer to use involved site radiation therapy (ISRT). With ISRT, you will have radiation directed at the lymph nodes that originally contained the lymphoma, as well as at areas close by. Involved field radiation therapy (IFRT) directs radiation at larger areas of affected lymph nodes than ISRT. With IFRT, nearby organs may be exposed to radiation. This is one reason many doctors now use ISRT instead of IFRT.
For external radiation therapy, a doctor called a radiation oncologist will create your treatment plan. Planning (simulation) includes taking several measurements to find the correct angles for aiming the radiation. The plan shows what kind of radiation you’ll have, as well as the dose. It also shows how long the treatment will last. This doctor can also prepare you for how you may feel during and after the treatment.
During simulation, you likely will have imaging tests such as CT, MRI, or PET scans. These will take pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests will help show where you need treatment.
In most cases, radiation therapy is done 5 days a week for a few weeks. The treatment is done by a radiation therapist. The experience is a lot like getting an X-ray, only it takes longer.
Radiation therapy affects normal cells as well as cancer cells. Side effects of radiation depend on the part of your body being treated. Some common side effects include:
Red, dry, and itchy skin
Upset stomach or nausea
Loose stool or diarrhea
Lowered blood cell counts
Radiation irritates the skin and makes it more sensitive. Because of this, you should avoid direct sun exposure. If you are outside, cover your skin and use sunscreen during and after radiation treatment.
Long-term side effects depend on the part of your body being treated. One of the most serious is a higher risk for other cancers in the part of your body getting radiation. Radiation can also cause long-term damage to some organs. For example, radiation to the chest can damage your thyroid gland or your heart. Talk with your healthcare providers about your risks for long-term side effects.
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