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About side effects of treatment

Find out about the side effects of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). 

What side effects are

Side effects are unwanted things that happen to you as a result of medical treatment. The side effects that you might have and how severe they are depend on a number of factors including:

  • the type of treatment you have
  • the combination of treatments you have
  • the dose (amount) of the drug or radiotherapy
  • the way you have treatment – as tablets or capsules, or by injection
  • your general health
  • your age

Many people are worried about the possible side effects of treatment. All treatments cause some side effects. But side effects vary from one person to another.

Treatments for leukaemia are continuing to improve, which means that more people are surviving with fewer side effects. There are medicines to help control most side effects that happen during or straight after treatment. Many of these effects stop when the treatment ends.

Side effects might be immediate or long term.

Immediate side effects

Immediate side effects happen when you have the treatment or very soon after you finish. The immediate side effects depend on which treatments you have. Some common side effects of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia treatment include:

  • low resistance to infection
  • anaemia
  • risk of bruising and bleeding
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • a sore mouth
  • taste changes
  • changes in your heart muscle
  • complete hair loss
  • women's periods usually stop and men might stop producing sperm

Late effects

Late effects are medical conditions that develop some years after treatment, for example, heart disease, clouding of the eye lens (cataracts), or not being able to have children (infertility).

Because treatments have improved, the treatment that people have now is less likely to cause long term problems than treatment in the past.

Coping with late effects

It can be difficult to cope with problems that develop after treatment. You might feel that it's very unfair to have to cope with side effects as well as the leukaemia and its treatment.

Some people find that talking through these issues can help them to cope.

It can also help to know about the risk of developing late effects. Ask your specialist doctor or nurse about possible side effects.

Keeping as healthy as possible can help to reduce the chance of some problems developing. This includes not smoking, eating a well balanced diet, keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly.

Talk to your treatment team about any symptom that worries you. You don't have to wait for your next appointment.

You can talk through late effects with the Cancer Research UK Nurses. You can call them on 0808 800 4040, lines are open Monday to Friday 9 to 5.
Last reviewed: 
07 May 2015
  • Treatment of Cancer (6th Edition)

    P Price and K Sikora

    CRC Press, 2015

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