Radiotherapy is used in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat certain types of leukaemia.
It involves the application of elevated energy rays that attack the cancerous cells and restrict their growth.
Radiotherapy can be applied in two ways; either on the specific part of the body where the leukaemia cells have accumulated, such as the spleen or the testicles, or on the body as a whole. The latter is known as total body irradiation, and is commonly used as a preliminary step towards a hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Side effects of radiotherapy
Patients undergoing radiotherapy can develop symptoms of fatigue that require periods of rest. However, doctors advise patients to remain as active as possible.
Holo-cranial radiotherapy can often lead to hair loss, which can provoke scalp irritations. It is important to maintain the scalp in a clean condition and patients should follow precisely, the recommendations of their doctor. Radiotherapy can also cause nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. These side effects are usually temporary and doctors or nurses can recommend methods to alleviate them during the period of treatment.
However, some side effects can be more lasting. In young children who are undergoing holo-cranial radiotherapy problems related to learning and coordination have been detected. For this reason it is avoided if possible or the lowest possible dosage of radiation is applied, and only those cases in which chemotherapy is not effective on its own.
Radiotherapy applied to the genital organs can affect hormone production and the level of fertility. The majority of young adults who undergo this treatment become infertile and some require the administration of hormones.