Healthy Living

Lymphoma: Coping with Radiation Treatment

Lymphoma: Coping with Radiation Treatment

Key Takeaways

  • Radiation treatment uses high-energy particles, such as gamma rays or x-rays, to attack and destroy cancer cells. 
  • In most cases, radiation treatment is aimed only at the part of the body that is affected and needs to be treated.
  • Radiation treatment may be used as is or may be combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy

Getting a diagnosis of lymphoma or any type of cancer is always difficult and overwhelming. Apart from the medical aspects relating to the condition, you will also have to learn how to cope with the physiological and emotional issues that follow. Keep in mind that it is OK to feel shocked and confused about your priorities and the decisions that you need to make. Each individual’s situation is unique and there is no right or easy way to cope with lymphoma. It is up to you to manage your choices and treatment on a daily basis.

Coping with lymphoma entails coping with radiation treatment. Radiation treatment uses high-energy particles, such as gamma rays or x-rays, to attack and destroy cancer cells. It works by breaking down the DNA structure inside the cancer cells to keep them from growing and dividing. In most cases, radiation treatment is aimed only at the part of the body that is affected and needs to be treated. Any neighboring healthy cells that may be affected by the radiation tend to recover quickly and go back to functioning properly. If you are suffering from lymphoma, this type of treatment can be very effective because lymphoma cells are quite sensitive to radiation.

Radiation treatment may be used as is or may be combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy. A few specific radiation treatments may be administered through a vein (intravenously) or through the mouth (orally). In general, the way that the radiation is administered depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

  • Targeted radiation involves injecting monoclonal antibodies into your body to deliver high doses of radiation directly to the cancer cells.
  • External radiation uses x-rays from a machine to pinpoint the part of your body that is affected.
  • Whole-body radiation is when radiation is performed on your entire body (ex: stem cell transplant).

Radiation treatment is used to treat several different types of lymphoma:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma at an early stage
  • Advanced Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma at an early stage
  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)
  • Follicular lymphoma
  • Lymphoma of the skin

Depending on the type of lymphoma that you are suffering from, chances are that you will receive one the following radiation treatments:

  • Involved-field radiotherapy (IFRT) – radiotherapy that is targeted to treat a whole lymph node area, such as the neck or groin. It is administered as the only form of treatment.
  • Involved-node radiotherapy (INRT) – radiotherapy that is targeted to treat only the affected lymph nodes. It is administered after having undergone chemotherapy.
  • Palliative radiotherapy – radiotherapy that is targeted to ease symptoms of lymphoma.
  • Chemoradiotherapy – radiotherapy that is combined with chemotherapy.

Your radiation treatment is tailored to suit your individual needs and keep lymphoma cells from recurring (relapsing). However, each individual reacts differently to the treatment that they are given. Some experience quite a few side effects, such as fatigue and nausea, while others experience none whatsoever. Any side effects that may present themselves generally depend on the part of your body that is being treated, the overall dose of radiation that you are given, and your overall well-being.

During your radiation treatment, it is important that you focus on your health. There is no way to guarantee whether you will experience any side effects; therefore, it is best to speak with your cancer care team about what you could expect.

Common side effects of radiation treatment generally depend on:

  • The specific area of your body that is being treated
  • The extent of the specific area of your body that is being treated
  • The amount of radiation that you are undergoing
  • The type of radiation treatment that you are undergoing
  • The specific medications that you are taking
  • Your overall well-being

Radiation treatment can cause two types of side effects; early side effects and late side effects. Early side effects tend to occur throughout or shortly after treatment. Examples of such side effects include fatigue, mouth changes, skin changes, and hair loss. Late side effects, on the other hand, can take months or years to develop after treatment. Examples of such side effects include thyroid problems, infections, brain changes, and sterility. Most of your side effects will go away on their own soon after you have finished with your treatment. However, some side effects, such as fatigue, may be persistent long after you have finished with your treatment. This is because it takes time for the healthy cells in your body to recover from the radiation.

Coping with radiation treatment means that you should take good care of yourself during and after treatment. You can do so by:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Exercising
  • Practicing meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Learning about lymphoma and making necessary decisions about your care
  • Taking any prescribed medications and supplements
  • Taking good care of the area of your skin affected by the radiation treatment
  • Moisturizing your skin on a frequent basis throughout the day
  • Avoiding scratching or scrubbing the area of your skin affected by the radiation treatment
  • Avoiding the use of alcohol-based products
  • Avoiding extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures
  • Avoiding spicy foods and caffeinated beverages
  • Taking time off from work when necessary
  • Staying up-to-date with vaccinations
  • Getting a blood test done at least once a year
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Keeping your bedroom at a cool temperature
  • Receiving immediate and proper treatment of any infections that might arise
  • Being honest with your family and friends and keeping them close by
  • Managing your emotional state by seeking help from a support group
  • Making doctor’s appointments and going in for regular check-ups / follow-ups

It is important to consult with your cancer care team about any side effects that you may be experiencing and ask them for suggestions on ways to help you feel better. Do not be afraid to ask questions when it comes to your health. If you do not fully comprehend the meaning of a medical term or procedure, ask your care team to explain it to you. If they have already explained it to you and you are still not certain that you understand, ask again. Talk to them about any changes or concerns that you may be experiencing.

You may even prefer talking with a family member, friend, or loved one about your feelings and experiences. Whatever you decide, a good place to start is to be open and honest with your emotions and come to terms with them.

Expressing your emotions can help you maintain both your emotional state and physical health. While you may not be able to control lymphoma cells, you can change your outlook on life and choose to make healthy lifestyle choices.