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What to Know About Radiation Therapy for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy. You may have it alone, or you may have it with other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy. This therapy uses strong X-rays to kill lymphoma cells. It may be used to try to cure the lymphoma or to reduce pressure or pain. A radiation oncologist sets your treatment plan. The plan details what kind of radiation you’ll have and how long the treatment will last. This doctor can also prepare you for how you may feel during and after the treatment.

If you’re having treatment directed at just a small part of your body, you’ll most likely do this as an outpatient. That means you may have it in a hospital or a clinic, but you don’t have to stay overnight. If you’re preparing for a stem cell transplant, you will have the treatments as an inpatient. That means you’ll need to stay in the hospital.

To help guide your treatment, your radiation oncologist may do some imaging tests. These tests take pictures of the inside your body. These may include X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans. They help spot where you need treatment. You may have the same tests after treatment to see how well it worked.

The different ways you can get radiation for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The most common way to get this is with external radiation to 1 part of your body. The radiation comes from a machine. A radiation oncologist maps out your treatment plan. Then a radiation therapist gives you the radiation. This is used to treat lymphoma in specific parts of your body. It directs strong X-rays very precisely. Your doctor may suggest it to kill lymphoma cells. It can also be used to control symptoms, such as pressure or pain. You usually get external treatments once a day for five days in a row for several weeks. Each treatment takes only a few minutes, although the session may be longer because of the time needed to get you into the right position. You can have it done as an outpatient. That means you don’t need to stay overnight in a hospital. External radiation can also be given to the whole body (known as total body irradiation or TBI) just before a stem cell transplant. You stay in the hospital for this type of radiation. 

Radiation may also be given in the form of a drug as a type of internal radiation. This type of treatment, called radioimmunotherapy, uses a radioactive molecule that is attached to a manmade protein called a monoclonal antibody. When injected into the blood, the antibody brings the radiation directly to the lymphoma cells. This type of treatment is most often used if other monoclonal antibodies (without radiation) have been used but are no longer controlling the lymphoma.