Total body irradiation is a treatment that delivers small doses of radiation to your entire body. Doctors typically use this therapy to help you prepare for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. The treatment can destroy cancer cells in hard-to-reach areas or lower your risk of transplant rejection.
Total body irradiation is a type of radiation therapy that applies small doses of radiation to your entire body. Other types of radiation therapy to treat cancer apply larger doses of radiation to specific parts of your body.
Total body irradiation helps prepare you for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Your doctor may recommend the therapy to:
Before you receive total body irradiation, you’ll have an appointment — called a simulation — to plan your treatment. This is like a trial run of the treatment you’ll receive. It helps your healthcare providers ensure that you’re positioned so you can get the right dose of radiation.
You’ll have a CT scan to map the treatment area, while your radiation therapist takes measurements. Once your provider determines how to best position your body for treatment, they’ll make small skin markings and take pictures to help position your body when you go in for treatment. The markings may be permanent but are tiny.
You may stay in the hospital for several days while you receive total body irradiation. During treatment:
Total body irradiation treatments can take up to 60 minutes. Your first session may last longer while your therapist takes additional X-rays to ensure correct positioning. You may be able to listen to music to help your sessions pass more quickly.
Most people receive total body irradiation up to two or three times a day for up to three to five days. Your care team will explain how many radiation sessions you need before your treatment.
Total body irradiation can lower the chances that your body will reject a bone marrow transplant. It can also destroy cancer cells in parts of your body that are difficult to reach with other cancer treatments.
Many people experience side effects of this treatment. Side effects of total body radiation vary based on several factors, including:
Most often, people have short-term side effects that start a few days or weeks after treatment, including:
Total body irradiation also causes a drop in your blood cell count. This puts you at a higher risk of:
Rarely, total body irradiation leads to side effects that appear much later and can last longer, such as:
A bone marrow transplant also increases your risk of getting a second type of cancer. However, it’s important to remember that the risk of getting another type of cancer after treatment is lower than the health risks of not getting the transplant.
Managing side effects can help make total body irradiation easier, such as:
“Irradiation” is the term for when your body is exposed to radiation. Radiation exposure can destroy cells or damage your tissues. When used for cancer treatment, radiation destroys or shrinks cancer cells.
No, total body irradiation isn’t painful. You can’t feel the radiation beams, and the machine doesn’t touch you during treatment. You may have some uncomfortable side effects after total body irradiation, but these don’t usually last long.
Total body irradiation is a treatment to deliver radiation to your entire body. You may have this therapy to prepare for a bone marrow transplant. Hearing that your entire body will be exposed to radiation may make you nervous. Talk with your radiation oncologist about any concerns you have. Total body irradiation actually uses smaller doses of radiation than other types of radiation therapy, and new techniques minimize the effects of radiation on healthy tissue. The treatment can destroy cancer cells in hard-to-reach areas, making it less likely for your body to reject a bone marrow transplant.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/06/2023.
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