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Side Effects

Most ALL treatment side effects are temporary and subside once the body adjusts to therapy or after the therapy is completed. If side effects become severe, children may need to be hospitalized.

Side effects common to ALL and its treatment include:

  • Low blood cell counts. All and its treatment can cause a decrease in normal blood cell production.
  • Infection. During treatment, low white blood cell counts increase the risk of infection and may make it more difficult for your child’s body to fight infection. The healthcare team may give your child antibiotics to prevent infections. If your child shows signs of infection, contact the healthcare team immediately.
  • Tumor lysis syndrome. Children with ALL may be at risk for developing a condition called “tumor lysis syndrome” (TLS). This condition occurs when a large number of cancer cells die within a short period of time, releasing their contents into the blood. TLS can be severe during the early phases of treatment, especially for those children who have very high white blood cell counts before induction therapy. Uric acid is one of the chemicals released by dying cancer cells. Very high levels of uric acid and other chemicals can cause severe damage to the kidneys and heart. If untreated, TLS can lead to heart arrhythmias, seizures, loss of muscle control, acute kidney failure and even death. Children with ALL are constantly monitored for the development of TLS and are given drugs, such as allopurinol (Zyloprim®) or rasburicase (Elitek®), to prevent or lessen the effects of this condition.
  • Pain. Bone pain may occur in children with ALL at the time of diagnosis or during a relapse, due to the infiltration of leukemia cells in the bone marrow. Use of pain medications and physical therapy are very effective approaches for patients with pain from leukemia or leukemia treatment.
  • Corticosteroid side effects may include high blood sugar and corticosteroid-induced diabetes and stomach ulcers.

Common side effects of chemotherapy may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Rashes
  • Itchy skin
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

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