Side effects of treatments used in ALL

Chemotherapy does not distinguish between leukaemia cells and normal cells, which is why it can often cause the side effects. Side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hair loss
  • Infections
  • Bleeding
  • Constipation, particularly if treatment includes an alkaloid such as vincristine

Targeted therapy tends to cause less side effects than chemotherapy because unlike chemotherapy it doesn’t have a broad effect and targets specific areas of the leukaemia cells. Nevertheless, they still have side effects which tend to be specific to each drug.

Patients receiving anthracycline drugs such as daunorubicin and doxorubicin may suffer heart muscle damage which may be a long-term side effect. The short-term side effects with anthracyclines include heart rhythm disturbances.

It is important that patients are questioned at each follow-up appointment about any side effects. This often falls to the nursing staff who spend more time with patients. This is vital as the damage to the heart muscles of patients on anthracyclines can be minimised by adjusting the dose or prescribing a different drug.