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Side effects of leukaemia treatment

We're here for you if you want to talk?

0808 2080 888

[email protected]

Some side effects are short-term and go away after treatment has finished, but others can last longer. Tell your healthcare team about how you’re feeling, as there are normally ways they can help.

Tiredness (fatigue)

Fatigue is when you’re totally drained in body or mind. Things that help include balancing rest with activity, and learning what’s doable for you by keeping track of your symptoms.

Anaemia

Anaemia means having a low level of red blood cells. It can cause tiredness and breathlessness. You may be offered a blood transfusion to treat this.

Infections

Blood cancer and treatments like chemotherapy can weaken your immune system and make you more likely to get infections. It’s good to know the signs of an infection so you can get treatment like antibiotics quickly. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting infections. We have more information on signs of infection and reducing your risk.

Sore mouth or gut (mucositis)

You might have a sore mouth or soreness in the lining of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes your food pipe, stomach and gut. This is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It can be painful, but it is treatable with medicines and gets better with time. Read more about mucositis.

Hair loss or thinning

This is caused by chemotherapy treatment. There are lots of things that can help you deal with hair loss, and your hair will grow back once your treatment has finished. Macmillan have more information on hair loss.

Changes to your bowel habits

You may have diarrhoea (frequent, loose or watery poo) or be constipated (find it hard to poo). There are medicines for this, and changes to your diet may help. Ask your healthcare team to refer you to a dietitian.

Feeling and being sick

Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting) can be side effects of the treatment. Anti-sickness drugs (also called anti-emetics) can help. If you’re feeling sick, eat small, light meals or snacks. Peppermint tea, a fizzy drink or foods containing ginger can reduce nausea. Read more about managing sickness and vomiting.

Fertility problems

Chemotherapy treatment can affect whether you are able to have children (your fertility). It’s important to talk to your healthcare team about this if it worries you, as there are ways to preserve fertility.

While you’re having chemotherapy, it’s essential to avoid getting pregnant, because the drugs may harm the baby.

Other long-term health problems

Some treatments for leukaemia can cause other long-term health problems, such as problems with your thyroid, heart or lung. This will depend on the type and strength of treatments you’ve had.  Ask your healthcare team for more information about the risks and benefits of treatment.

Dawn, support line worker

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