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Radiation of Thymus and the immune system
Mar 1, 2001

I was treated with chemo and radiation therapy for Hodgkins Disease in 1998 and am still in remission. My current physician is concerned that the area of radiation, my upper torso, covered and, therefore, destroyed my thymus. He mentioned that the thymus creates "naive" T cells and that these cells are an important arsenal in a healthy immune system. Can you please offer your opinion? Thank you very much.

Response from Dr. Dezube

You ask an excellent and tough question. There is some truth to your physician's thinking. Radiation and chemotherapy do indeed impair the immune system, and particularly thymic function. HOWEVER, most of the effects of radiation and chemotherapy are reversible. In time, your immune system will recover. The time of recovery depends on many factors, the most important one is age at time of treatment. I can't tell from your query what your age is. If you were treated for your Hodgkin's when you were young (e.g. age 15), then your immune system should recover within a year or so. If, however, you were say 60 years old, then your immune system will take years to recover, and may not ever recover fully. By and large, most Hodgkin's patients return to normal healthy lives after treatment. It is very important that you get your thyroid function tested yearly (this is done by a simple TSH blood test). Hope this helps. BD.


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