What to Expect After Radiation Therapy for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

Because radiation affects normal cells as well as leukemia cells, you may have some side effects from this treatment. The severity of these effects depends upon the dose, frequency, and location of the treatments. Many people have no side effects at all. If you do have them, your doctor may change the dose of your radiation. Or the doctor may stop treatment until the side effects clear up. So be sure you keep your doctor informed about the side effects you have. If you are having radiation directed at a specific part of your body, the side effects are usually mild. They will get better and go away when the treatment ends.

The side effects you have depend on what area of your body is being treated. The immediate side effects of total body irradiation (TBI) can be more severe than for targeted radiation. They include an increased risk for infection, because of a decrease in your white blood cells and because of damaged skin and mucous membranes.

Short-Term Side Effects

These are short-term side effects you may have from radiation.

  • Poor appetite

  • Diarrhea if your abdomen is being treated

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Nausea

  • Sore mouth (called mucositis)

  • Skin irritation

  • Infection

Long-Term Side Effects

Long-term side effects of radiation may not show up for several years after your treatments end. Here are some possible long-term side effects.

  • Chronic skin changes, such as a reappearance of redness after exposure to other agents such as chemotherapy

  • Interstitial pneumonitis which is inflammation of the lungs

  • Decreased bone and soft tissue growth, this mostly affects the long bones in children

  • Intellectual development may be affected in children who receive TBI (total body irradiation)

  • Cataracts

  • Permanent sterility

  • Secondary cancers


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