Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used in a variety of ways. It can kill leukemia cells concentrated in one part of your body or kill leukemia cells throughout your body before a stem cell transplant. Your doctor may also use it to relieve symptoms, such as bone pain, from the cancer.
Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy for these reasons:
You have decided to have a stem cell transplant. Radiation therapy doesn't just kill cancer cells. It also kills normal bone marrow cells, which may help prevent the rejection of stem cell transplants. If you need to have a transplant, you may receive total body irradiation (TBI). This distributes radiation in equal doses to all parts of your body, since leukemia cells can be in any blood vessel in any part of your body. High-dose chemotherapy is typically the main treatment before a stem cell transplant, but TBI may be a part of the treatment as well.
You need radiation to help manage symptoms. For example, radiation can help with bone pain, caused by the growth of leukemia cells in bone marrow.
You need radiation because leukemia cells have spread to your brain, spine, or another organ. Radiation can provide a concentrated attack on the leukemia cells in these parts of your body. In rare cases, a tumor may develop that interferes with the function of an organ. Radiation can be used to shrink the tumor.