Therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) can produce side effects. For most patients, treatment side effects are temporary and go away once therapy ends. For other patients, side effects can be severe, sometimes requiring hospitalization.
Before you start treatment, talk with your doctor about potential side effects. Drugs and other therapies can prevent or manage many side effects. Many treatment side effects go away or become less noticeable over time.
Common Side Effects
Chemotherapy drugs are the main culprits when it comes to causing unwanted side effects. These drugs can kill cancer cells, but they can damage normal cells, too. The lining of the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines are particularly vulnerable to damage.
The side effects you may experience depend on:
- The intensity of chemotherapy
- The drugs used during therapy
- Your overall health and whether you have any chronic health conditions like diabetes or kidney disease
Side effects common to ALL and its treatment, especially chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation, include:
- Low blood cell counts. ALL can cause a decrease in normal blood cell production. Chemotherapy is toxic to both normal blood cells and ALL cells, making the number of your healthy cells decrease.
- Infection. Your infection risk increases during chemotherapy when your body doesn't produce enough white cells to keep your immune system working properly.
- Graft versus host disease. If you undergo an allogeneic stem cell transplantation, you're at risk of developing graft versus host disease (GVHD). GVHD develops when the donor's immune cells mistakenly attack the patient's normal cells. GVHD can be mild, moderate or severe - even life threatening.
- Kidney stones. Both ALL and chemotherapy can lead to kidney stones, which can block urine flow. White cells that overproduce can cause a buildup of uric acid, a chemical in our cells. The uric acid enters the bloodstream and is eliminated in urine. High levels of uric acid can cause kidney stones. If you develop kidney stones, your doctor may give you allopurinol (Zyloprim® and Aloprim®) or rasburicase (Elitek®), which reduces the uric acid in your blood.
The following side effects are also common. Click here to read more about these side effects.
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Long-Term and Late Effects of Treatment
For some patients, side effects may last well after they finish treatment. To read more about lingering side effects, see The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free publications:
- Long-Term and Late Effects of Treatment in Adults
- Long-Term and Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Leukemia and Lymphoma Facts.
- Managing Side Effects
- Integrative Medicine and Complementary and Alternative Therapies
- Download lists of questions to ask your doctor
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free booklet, Understanding Side Effects of Drug Therapy