The chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) has some unpleasant side effects. Because chemotherapy drugs destroy many of your healthy cells as they kill off the cancerous ones, you are at risk for anemia, infection and bleeding. The specific side effects depend on the type and dose of drugs and the length of time you receive them. Some additional side effects may include the following:
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Easy bruising
- Numbness in fingers and toes
During the induction phase of treatment, you will stay in the hospital where you can be protected from outside germs and treated for chemotherapy side effects. Once you are released from the hospital, you can reduce your risk of infections by following the guidelines recommended by your doctor. Some of these include the following:
- Being conscientious about washing your hands
- Washing fruits and vegetables that may carry germs
- Avoiding potential molds found on fresh flowers and plants
- Avoiding people who you know are sick
- Avoiding large crowds of people
Throughout treatment, you will be monitored for signs of infection, low blood cell counts and proper organ function. You may be given antibiotics to combat infections or transfusions of blood products to reverse anemia or low platelet counts. When serious side effects occur, your doctor may make adjustments to your chemotherapy regimen.
Patients who have a very high number of leukemic cells before beginning treatment may experience tumor lysis syndrome. As the chemotherapy drugs kill the leukemic cells, they split open and spill their contents into your bloodstream. To combat this side effect, your doctor may give you extra fluid during treatment as well as additional drugs to help rid your body of these unwanted substances.
In addition, chemotherapy treatment for ALL sometimes, though rarely, causes a secondary cancer to develop. About five percent of patients treated for ALL develop another form of leukemia called acute myelogenous leukemia and a smaller percentage develop another type of cancer, such as lymphoma.
Of course, the side effects of treatment cannot be ignored, but their seriousness must be weighed against the goal of complete remission from ALL. Always talk with your doctor about any concerns you have. Many of the side effects can be treated and most will disappear when treatment ends.