Radiation Therapy to Treat Childhood NHL

The treatment of children with radiotherapy can prevent the normal growth and development of bones, muscles, and other tissues. Therefore, most cancer specialists avoid radiotherapy or use the lowest possible doses of radiation when caring for children with lymphoma.

Radiation Side Effects

Physicians carefully calculate the dose and the exact placement of the radiation required to pinpoint and destroy lymphomas. Yet, in spite of these determinations, side effects still occur. Because cancer cells usually multiply faster than most bodily tissues, they are especially affected by radiation, which prevents cell division and the formation of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid; human genetic material). The specific side effects of mantle field irradiation are:

  • Radiation pneumonitis—lung inflammation that is characterized by a mild, nonproductive cough, low-grade fever, and difficult breathing with exertion
  • Pericarditis—inflammation of covering of the heart
  • Thyroid abnormalities
  • Lhermette's syndrome—a mild form of radiation myelitis (spinal cord inflammation), which can cause an "electric shock" sensation down the backs of the legs when the neck is bent
  • Second cancers (especially acute leukemia) that arise many years after treatment

The bodily tissues that divide rapidly—such as the lining of the digestive tract, hair, and skin—are particularly vulnerable to radiotherapy. After mantle irradiation, the patient may experience mouth dryness and inflammation of the pharynx (throat). If the stomach and/or intestines have been irradiated, the individual may have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation of the peritoneum (tissue that lines the abdominal cavity), formation of abdominal adhesions (fibrous bands), obstruction of the small bowel, and a lowered blood counts. Other side effects of external beam radiation are skin irritation, edema (swelling), and skin darkening at the treatment site.

For more information on therapies for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, please speak with your physician. Open communication leads to improved care. Ask questions and become more informed about your condition. Participation in your health care is essential.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015