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Radiation treatment is the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It is not often part of the main treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but there are a few times in which it may be used:

  • It is sometimes used to treat leukemia that has spread to the brain and spinal fluid or to the testicles.
  • Radiation to the whole body is often an important part of treatment before a stem cell transplant.
  • It is used (rarely) to help shrink a tumor if it is pressing on the windpipe and causing breathing problems. But chemo is often used instead since it often works more quickly.
  • Radiation can be used to reduce pain in a bone that has leukemia in it, if chemo hasn’t helped.

The possible side effects of radiation depend on where it is aimed. Sunburn-like skin changes in the treated area can happen. Radiation to the head and neck area can lead to mouth sores and trouble swallowing. Radiation to the belly can sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. If large areas of the body get radiation, the effects may include tiredness, bleeding or bruising easily, and an increased risk of infection.

Last Medical Review: 04/21/2015
Last Revised: 02/22/2016