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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. This was once a very common treatment for children and teens with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). But as doctors have developed more effective chemotherapy (chemo) and other drug treatments, radiation therapy has been used less.
Radiation therapy might be used in a few instances.
Radiation focused on a cancer from a machine outside the body is called external beam radiation. This is the type of radiation therapy most often used to treat childhood NHL.
Before the radiation treatment starts, the team will take careful measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. This planning session, called simulation, often includes getting imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.
The treatment itself is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. It is painless, but some younger children might need to be sedated to help make sure they don’t move during the treatment. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time – getting your child into place for treatment – usually takes longer. The number of treatments will depend on the reason they're being given.
Short-term side effects of radiation therapy depend on where it is aimed. For example:
Often these effects go away after a short while.
Possible long-term side effects of radiation therapy in children and teens can be more serious, and some may not occur until many years later.
Because of these possible long-term effects, doctors try to avoid using radiation therapy in children or limit the doses used whenever possible. For more on possible long-term effects, see Late and Long-term Effects of Treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children.
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Gross TG, Kamdar KY, Bollard CM. Chapter 19: Malignant Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas in Children. In: Blaney SM, Adamson PC, Helman LJ, eds. Pizzo and Poplack’s Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 8th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2021.
National Cancer Institute Physician Data Query (PDQ). Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment. 2021. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/lymphoma/hp/child-nhl-treatment-pdq on June 10, 2021.
Sandlund JT, Onciu M. Chapter 94: Childhood Lymphoma. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
Termuhlen AM, Gross TG. Overview of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children and adolescents. UpToDate. 2021. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-non-hodgkin-lymphoma-in-children-and-adolescents on June 14, 2021.
Last Revised: August 10, 2021