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Radiotherapy effects on your blood

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about how radiotherapy can affect your bone marrow and blood cells. There is information about

 

How radiotherapy affects your blood

Radiotherapy sometimes slows down the cells in the bone marrow that produce your blood cells. This is more likely if you are having a large area of the body treated or if treatment is to the bones of your legs, chest, tummy (abdomen) or pelvis.

 

Effects of low blood cell levels

If your level of red blood cells is low (anaemia), you may feel tired and breathless. You may need a blood transfusion to boost your red blood cell count. If you can't have blood transfusions your doctor may suggest that you have erythropoietin injections. Erythropoietin is a hormone that encourages the body to make red blood cells.

If your white blood cell count falls very low (which is rare) it is called neutropenia. You may be more at risk of getting infections. You may need a short rest from treatment so that your blood count can go back to normal.

People having total body irradiation (TBI) before a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant will have low levels of red cells as well as white cells and platelets. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot and if they are low you may be more at risk of bruising or bleeding.

If your bone marrow is likely to be affected, you will have regular blood tests during your treatment to check the number of red blood cells in your blood.

 

More about radiotherapy side effects

We have detailed information about external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy in this section. We also have detailed information about side effects.

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 2 May 2014