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Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. It is more effective against solid tumors than blood cancers like leukemia, but it may be used in special circumstances.

If radiation therapy is used to treat leukemia, it is done with external beam radiation. In external beam radiation therapy, radiation is produced by a machine positioned outside the body. Short bursts of x-rays are directed at specific areas. The radiation oncologist will direct the radiation beam to affect as much cancer as possible.

Radiation therapy may be used in leukemia treatment to:

  • Eliminate unhealthy marrow before a bone marrow transplant
  • Relieve clogging in the spleen as an alternative to a splenectomy
  • Treat areas like the spinal cord, brain, or testicles to prevent spread of leukemia in these areas
  • To ease symptoms caused by congestion of leukemia cells in advanced stages

References:

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (ALL) management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116388/Acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia-lymphoma-ALL. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/leukemias/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia-(all). Updated October 2014. Accessed February 4, 2016.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML. Updated July 6, 2016. October 4, 2016.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/leukemias/chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia-(cll). Updated October 2014. Accessed February 4, 2016.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114637/Chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia-CLL-Small-lymphocytic-leukemia-SLL. Updated March 7, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/leukemias/chronic-myelogenous-leukemia-(cml). Updated October 2014. Accessed February 4, 2016.

Chronic myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115889/Chronic-myeloid-leukemia-CML. Updated March 19, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2016.



Last reviewed December 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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