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About acute lymphoblastic leukaemia treatment side effects

This page has information about the side effects of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). There is information about


A quick guide to what’s on this page

Side effects are unwanted effects that happen as a result of medical treatment. They vary depending mainly on the type of treatment you’ve had, but also according to dose and from person to person.

There are a lot of immediate side effects with acute leukaemia treatment, including tiredness, increased risk of infection, anaemia, bleeding and bruising, sickness, hair loss, a sore mouth and taste changes.

Long term side effects can come on months or years after your treatment has finished. Again, the risk of these depends on the specific treatment that you had. Doctors are always working to reduce unwanted treatment effects. People treated for leukaemia these days are less likely to have long term effects than people treated in the past.


CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating ALL section.



What side effects are

Side effects are unwanted effects that happen to you as a result of medical treatment. The side effects that you may 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
  • How you have the treatment – as tablets or capsules, or by injection
  • Your general health
  • Your age

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

For a treatment to become a standard treatment, the benefits need to outweigh any possible side effects. When researchers are developing treatments they consider

  • How well the treatment works
  • The possible immediate and late side effects of the treatment

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

Side effects may be immediate or late. 


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)
  • Feeling or being sick
  • A sore mouth
  • Taste changes
  • Changes in your heart muscle
  • Complete hair loss
  • Women's periods usually stop and men may 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.

There is detailed information about the possible late effects of leukaemia treatment in adults and children on the next page in this section.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about your particular risk of long term side effects - these will depend on the treatment you had. Your health care team will keep a close eye on you after your treatment finishes, so that they pick up any problems as early as possible.


Coping with side effects

It is not easy to cope with leukaemia and its treatment. But there are medicines to help reduce side effects. There are also people who can support you and help you with the practical and social effects of ALL. You can find out more on our page about coping with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

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Updated: 14 May 2015