What to Know About Radiation for Hodgkin Disease

Radiation uses high-energy X-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells. For Hodgkin disease, the radiation comes from a machine that is directed to the outside of your body. This is called external radiation.

For this treatment, you see a radiation oncologist. This doctor specializes in the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. This doctor decides how often you need radiation and at what dose.

Usually, you will receive external radiation therapy five days a week for several weeks. Most people with Hodgkin disease go to the hospital or clinic every day, excluding weekends, for this treatment. The person who gives you the radiation is a radiation therapist. The experience is a lot like getting an X-ray, only it takes longer.

Your doctor may recommend radiation if the cancer is limited to one place in your body or to a few places that are close to each other. It is also usually part of the treatment (along with chemotherapy) if the Hodgkin disease has grown into a large or bulky tumor mass, usually in the chest. Most people who have radiation for Hodgkin disease have already had successful short-course chemotherapy. You will have radiation directed where there is (or was) a tumor.

Potential side effects from radiation treatment for Hodgkin disease

Radiation therapy affects normal cells as well as cancer cells. Side effects of radiation depend on the part of your body being treated. Here are some of the common side effects:

  • Red, dry, and itchy skin

  • Feeling tired

  • Dry mouth

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Lowered blood cell counts

Because radiation irritates and sensitizes the skin, you should avoid direct sun exposure or cover the skin and use sunscreen for a period of time during and after radiation.

Long-term side effects depend on the part of your body being treated. One of the most serious is an increased risk of other cancers in the part of your body getting radiation. Radiation can also cause long-term damage to certain organs. For example, radiation to the chest can damage the thyroid gland or the heart.

Talk with your doctor and nurse about both short- and long-term side effects.