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Hodgkin lymphoma treatment side effects

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There's a range of side effects that people may have when they're treated for Hodgkin lymphoma. Everyone reacts differently, so you're unlikely to have all of the possible effects.

As well as the information about side effects of treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma in this section, you may also want to read some important information on staying safe if you’ve got blood cancer, covering things like risk of infection and vaccinations.

Side effects from chemotherapy

For most people with Hodgkin lymphoma, side effects from chemotherapy aren’t severe and they usually go away when treatment stops. They may include:

  • fever
  • difficulty pooing (constipation)
  • tiredness
  • cough/breathlessness
  • hair loss
  • bleeding and/or bruising
  • anaemia (a lack of red blood cells) which can cause paleness, tiredness and breathlessness
  • mouth sores
  • feeling sick and being sick (nausea and vomiting)
  • poor appetite (loss of taste)
  • weight changes

Some side effects are associated with specific drugs. For example the bleomycin drug in ABVD can cause a cough or breathlessness. Let your doctor know straight away if this occurs during or after treatment.

The dacarbazine drug in ABVD may cause some pain at the spot where it’s given. If this happens there are things which can be done to help, so you should tell your nurse or doctor immediately if you feel pain.

You’ll be given drugs called anti-emetics to stop you feeling sick and to help with the vomiting you might get with certain treatments. If you have any other side effects, tell your healthcare team.

Sam, in remission from Hodgkin lymphoma, with long hair.

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Sam's tips on losing and regrowing your hair after chemo.

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Side effects from steroids

Side effects from steroids can include:

  • feeling agitated
  • weight gain
  • a build-up of water (water retention) around your face and ankles
  • increase in appetite
  • raised blood sugar, particularly in people with diabetes

Side effects from radiotherapy

These will depend on the area of the body being treated but common side effects are tiredness (fatigue), and redness in the treated area. Your healthcare team will speak to you in more detail about this.

Sex and fertility

Treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma can affect your fertility. The level of risk depends on the specific treatment you’ve had. If you’re a woman, the risk to your fertility becomes higher as you get older because there is a possibility that chemotherapy may lead to an earlier menopause.

After you’ve been diagnosed, and before you begin treatment, it would be a good idea to discuss the options available to protect your fertility with your doctor.

While you’re having chemotherapy it’s essential to avoid getting pregnant because the drugs may harm the baby. We also don’t fully understand what effect chemotherapy has on sperm. So if you’re having chemotherapy treatment you should use condoms if you have sex during treatment, and continue to use them for a week after finishing their treatment. Once you’re in remission, talk to your doctor if you are planning to have a child.

Supportive care

You may have different types of supportive care during and after treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. These aim to help with complications associated with your illness or side effects from your treatment, and include the prevention and treatment of infection, blood transfusions, mouth care, dietary advice, sickness control and pain management.

We have general information on side effects and how to manage them and you can order or download a range of fact sheets on side effects and supportive care, including Managing sickness and vomiting, Understanding infection, Blood transfusions and Sore mouth or gut (mucositis).

We also have dietary advice for people with a weakened immune system (neutropenia) in our booklet, Eating well with neutropenia.

Dawn, support line worker

Worried about anything or have questions?

Contact our Support Services Team

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