Radiation Therapy for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy is usually not part of the main treatment for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), but it is used in certain situations.

Patients may have symptoms if swollen internal organs (such as an enlarged spleen) press on other organs. For instance, pressure against the stomach may affect appetite. If these symptoms are not helped by chemotherapy, radiation therapy to shrink the spleen may be an option.

Radiation therapy can also be useful in treating pain from bone damage caused by the growth of leukemia cells within the bone marrow.

Radiation therapy is sometimes given in low doses to the whole body, just before a stem cell transplant (see Stem Cell Transplant for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia).

The main short-term side effects of radiation therapy depend in part on what area of the body is treated.

  • Fatigue (tiredness) is a common side effect (no matter what part of the body is treated)
  • Skin changes can occur in the treated area which range from mild redness to blistering and peeling.
  • If the radiation is aimed at the areas of the head or neck, the inside lining of your mouth and throat may become red and irritated - this is called mucositis.
  • Radiation to the belly or pelvis can cause nausea and vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • If large parts of the body are treated with radiation, the bone marrow may be affected, leading to low blood counts.

More information on radiation therapy can be found in the radiation section of our website.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 24, 2015 Last Revised: February 22, 2016

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