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Radiation therapy is the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat leukemia that has spread to the brain and spinal cord or to the testicles. It might also be used to reduce pain when the leukemia has spread to a bone if chemo hasn't helped

Radiation to the whole body is often done as part of a stem cell transplant (see “Stem cell transplant for acute lymphocytic leukemia”). It is also used, though rarely, in an emergency to shrink a tumor if it is pressing on the windpipe. But more often chemo is used instead.

The possible side effects of radiation depend on where it is aimed. There may be sunburn-like skin changes in the treated area. Radiation to the belly (abdomen) can sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. For radiation that includes large parts of the body, the effects may include lowered blood cell counts, which can lead to extreme tiredness (called fatigue) and an increased risk of infection.

Last Medical Review: 12/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/22/2016