Surviving Lymphoma: Late Effects

boy looking out
photo by Amy Paige

After surviving lymphoma treatments, patients should be on the lookout for late effects. These are symptoms that arise well after treatment has stopped. Since chemotherapy, radiation, and cancer itself can be damaging to the body, it is not surprising that these symptoms can occur years into a patient’s remission. However, by having regular checkups and being aware of their own health, patients can reduce the damage of late effects.

This list is by no means complete. It is intended as a starting point that will give you a general idea of side effects from chemotherapy. See the "Resources" at the bottom of the page for more information.

Potential Side Effects from lymphoma treatment include:

The body can have a hard time recovering from chemotherapy and radiation, and anemia can be a result. The bone marrow may have trouble producing blood cells for a few years after treatment, and low red blood cell counts lead to anemia. This causes fatigue and dizziness.
Avascular Necrosis (Osteonecrosis)
This condition refers to bone death in or around the joints, which leads to deformation of the joints. It is most common in the shoulder and hip and can cause joint pain. Some patients walk with a limp or need joint replacements. Prednisone is the most likely cause of this condition, but chemotherapy, radiation, and tumor damage are other possibilities.
Some chemotherapy drugs can leave a patient sterile. Radiation is another cause.
Radiation to the neck or strong doses of chemo can impair thyroid function. Since the thyroid controls metabolism and energy, patients with hypothyroidism are usually fatigued. Other symptoms include hair loss, cold intolerance, weight gain, night sweats, irritability, and memory loss. Hormone therapy can treat this problem.
Peripheral Neuropathy
This refers to tingling, numbness, or pain due to nerve damage, and usually occurs in the hands or feet. It is usually temporary and goes away on its own.
Lung problems
Bleomycin is known to cause lung problems in a small amount of patients, so pulmonary function tests should be done yearly to ensure good lung health.
Heart problems
Adriamycin is known to cause heart problems, such as arrhythmias, in a small percentage of patients. Echocardiograms or other cardiac tests are usually performed yearly to ensure good heart health.
Kidney and/or liver damage
Your doctor may monitor the levels of certain hormones and vitamins to ensure that your kidneys and liver function properly. Since these two organs filter the chemotherapy from the blood, damage is possible.
Early onset osteoporosis can happen in some patients.
Secondary cancers
Chemotherapy agents and radiation are known to cause secondary cancers in a small amount of patients. These include breast cancer, other types of lymphoma, and leukemia. Secondary cancers are usually unrelated to the original cancer a patient was treated with.
Chemo Brain
Some patients have temporary memory loss after chemotherapy treatments.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Some patients are stressed for long periods of time post-treatment.

Remember to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the above or other symptoms that worry you. In most cases, the symptoms will be mild and easy to alleviate.

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