For it to be effective, doctors need to give just the right amount of radiation, targeted at the right area of the body. That’s why you get radiotherapy in specialist centres where doctors, physicists and radiographers work together. They’ll normally use a machine called a ‘linear accelerator’ for the treatment.
Radiotherapy can treat some types of leukaemia and lymphoma. Doctors can also use it to prepare a patient for a stem cell, bone marrow or cord blood transplant as part of the conditioning therapy. A low dose of radiation will lower someone’s immune system, so they’re less likely to reject donor cells. The type of radiotherapy you might have before a stem cell transplant is called total body irradiation or TBI and this means it affects the whole body.
Radiotherapy can also damage normal cells, which can cause side effects. These vary greatly for each person; some experiencing mild symptoms such as tiredness while for others it can be more debilitating. These side effects will normally have passed within a few weeks of the treatment finishing.
When radiotherapy finishes, most of your body’s healthy cells will continue to grow normally again. But radiotherapy can have long-term side effects.