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General Medical Questions
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Question : What are the potential long term effects of radiation therapy for someone treated for Hodgkin's disease?
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The Trusted Source
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Dr. Garnick is an internationally renowned expert in medical oncology and urologic cancer, with a special emphasis on prostate cancer. He is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and maintains an active oncology practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Dr. Garnick serves as Editor in Chief of Perspectives on Prostate Diseases, an annual report from Harvard Health Publications.

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April 18, 2011
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A:

There are some complications from using radiation therapy to treat Hodgkin's disease.

Most commonly, radiation is used in the chest area. This area, called the "mediastinum," is often involved with Hodgkin's disease.

The most common organ adversely affected by chest radiation is the thyroid gland. Radiation can damage thyroid cells that make thyroid hormone. This may lead to lower than normal blood levels of thyroid hormone (called hypothyroidism). Radiation also increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer.

People who have radiation to the chest need to be monitored for thyroid abnormalities for the rest of their lives.

Other complications from chest radiation include:

  • A higher risk of breast cancer
  • Inflammation and scarring of lung tissue (called radiation pneumonitis)
  • Heart problems, such as narrowing of the coronary arteries and heart failure
  • Inflammation and scarring of the lining around the heart (called pericarditis)

The risk of complications from radiation increases when the person is treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The combination increases the risk of other cancers, including:

  • Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells
  • Other types of lymphomas called non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Non-melanoma skin cancer

In the past, radiation was used on some tissues and organs in the abdomen. This could damage the kidney, leading to kidney failure and high blood pressure. This tends to be uncommon today, as radiation to this area is less frequently used.

Other side effects from chest radiation may include dry mouth, mouth sores and difficulty swallowing.

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