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The Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program of BC

For Patients & Families

Total Body Irradiation (TBI)

Some patients will receive radiation therapy in addition to chemotherapy. Like chemotherapy, total body irradiation (TBI) is used to eliminate the disease and in the case of allogeneic (donor) transplant to suppress the patient’s immune system in preparation for the transplanted stem cells.

What to Expect

Having TBI is a little bit like having an X-ray. The Radiotherapy Staff will wait outside the room during the actual TBI treatment. There is an intercom system so that you may talk with the staff at any point during the treatment. Radiation is given by a machine that sends rays of high energy into your body. The cells in your body are prevented from growing when they receive these high-energy rays. The TBI treatments are painless and each treatment should be completed in 20 minutes. It is important to know that patients who receive TBI do not become radioactive, nor do the body and clothes pass on radiation to others. You will be instructed not to wear jewellery during treatments because metal may change the dose of radiation. Wigs and hairpieces are also removed during the treatment sessions.

Total body irradiation is given in the Radiotherapy Department at the BC Cancer Agency. TBI is usually given in twice-daily doses, morning and afternoon, over three separate days. These days can be a little hectic because of the number of trips from the hospital room to the Radiotherapy Department. These trips involve passing through a tunnel under Heather Street to access the BC Cancer Agency. A friend or family member may go with you to your appointments in the Radiotherapy Department if you wish. The treatment room is equipped with a tape player so you may bring audiotapes of your favourite music during these appointments.

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Side Effects

Some of the more immediate side effects that may occur as a result of TBI include: nausea, fatigue, swollen glands in the throat area and skin changes.

  • Some skin changes are specific to total body irradiation. A temporary redness or rash is common. This usually occurs after a couple of radiation treatments and decreases soon after they are completed.
  • About two to three weeks after receiving total body irradiation, a bronze, sun-tanned appearance can develop and may last for several months.
  • Patients who receive total body irradiation should sponge bath with tepid water only and avoid the use of soap, moisturizers, and other toiletries during treatment and for several days after receiving radiation.

Side effects and their management will be discussed in detail by the Radiation Physician.

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