This page discusses the use of radiation therapy for the treatment of non-Hodgkin’ s lymphoma. For a thorough review of radiation therapy, please see the radiation therapy treatment monograph .

Radiation therapy is the use of penetrating beams of high-energy waves or streams of particles called radiation to treat disease. Radiation therapy destroys the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide.

Types of Radiation Therapy Used to Treat Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Different types of external radiation may be used to treat patients with localized disease. In external radiation therapy, rays are directed at the tumor from outside the body. Superficial radiation may be ordered for skin lymphoma. Total-body irradiation with external radiation may also be used. The daily time spent receiving the therapy is short, only a few minutes per day for eight to 10 weeks. Most patients continue with their daily activities during outpatient treatment.

Radiation also may be ordered to control symptoms, including pain. If the lymphoma is encroaching on the spinal cord, radiation may be able to decrease tumor size and preserve function.

Effectiveness

Radiation to the tumor is effective only in treatment of the localized disease. Even when the cancer appears localized, microscopic tumor cells may exist in other parts of the body. When the disease recurs, it often does so at these sites, which did not receive radiation therapy. Seventy to 85% of patients with advanced-stage low-grade lymphoma respond to total-body irradiation. About 25% remain free of the disease five years after treatment.

Radiation therapy’s effectiveness when used in combination with chemotherapy is still under investigation. One recent study showed improved survival rates using this combination for patients with aggressive lymphomas.

Side Effects and Possible Complications

Most radiation-related side effects resolve once treatment has been completed. Long-term complications, such as new cancers, are possible, especially in young patients.

For a thorough review of radiation therapy, please see the radiation therapy treatment monograph .