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

Because radiation affects normal cells as well as leukemia cells, you may experience some side effects from this treatment. The severity of these effects depends on the dose, frequency, and location of the treatments. Some people have no side effects. If you do have them, your doctor may change the dose of your radiation or stop treatment until your side effects clear up. Tell your doctor about any side effects you may have. If your radiation therapy is directed at a specific part of your body, your side effects are usually mild. They will usually improve and disappear when your 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

Following are some of the short-term side effects you may experience 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. Following 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

  • Slowed intellectual development in children who receive TBI

  • Cataracts

  • Decrease or loss of fertility

  • Secondary cancers

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