Warning !

This is ONLY to be read if you have finished hospital treatment, yet are experiencing unusual health problems. 

Doctors often don’t tell us, but 1 in 5 of us will experience some or several long term ‘nasties’  from the drugs we have been taking.

I experienced scepticism and dis-belief when I dared to question doctors if my medical probems were the result of my treatment.

Your cancer treatment is over, but the treatments that may have saved your life may also continue to cause side effects. This only happens to SOME – hopefully not to you, so don’t worry until it does!

in 2013 Macmillan published a report:  “Cured – but at what cost”.  Saying that one in five cancer survivors will experience problems from long term drug side effects. As increasingly people are living longer after cancer treatment,  doctors are learning more about dealing with these side effects.

Late effects are side effects of cancer treatment that become apparent after your treatment has ended.   And don’t expect these side effects to happen immediately – sometimes they don’t surface until years later.

Problems can occur from chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, surgery, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. As newer types of cancer treatment are developed, such as immunotherapy, doctors may find that these treatments also cause late effects in cancer survivors.

Told you NOT to read this – I didn’t want to alarm you!  Remember 80% of us DON’T have these problems, but if you do, and find your GP isn’t sure (why should they know every side effect) here is the Mayo’s check-list:

Treatment Late effects
Chemotherapy
  • Dental problems
  • Early menopause
  • Hearing loss
  • Heart problems
  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Infertility
  • Loss of taste
  • Lung disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reduced lung capacity
Radiation therapy
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Early menopause
  • Heart and vascular problems
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Infertility
  • Intestinal problems
  • Lung disease
  • Lymphedema
  • Memory problems
  • Osteoporosis
Surgery
  • Lymphoedema
Hormone therapy
  • Blood clots
  • Hot flushes (in men as well as in women)
  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sexual side effects (men and women)
Immunotherapy
  • Late effects unknown at this time
Targeted therapy
  • Late effects unknown at this time

Keep in mind that not everyone who has cancer treatment gets each of the late effects, and many people might not experience any late effects of treatment.  But at least you can check symptoms in the list above, and point to the fact that the Mayo Clinic is one of best cancer hospitals in the World.

Different chemotherapy drugs cause different late effects. So if you didn’t take the chemotherapy drugs that can cause infertility, then you aren’t believed to be at risk of that particular late effect.

Late effects of radiation and surgery will affect only the area of the body exposed to them. So, for example, if you had radiation to a part of your body other than your head or neck, then you won’t be at risk of cavities and tooth decay as a result of your radiation therapy.

Chilhood Cancers

As with late side effects in adult cancer survivors, late side effects in childhood cancer survivors will vary depending on the type of cancer and type of treatment. Additionally, the age at which you were treated may determine what late side effects, if any, might be of risk to you. Tell your doctor what you know about your childhood cancer treatments. If your parents or other family members have records of your treatment, provide those for your doctor.

What signs and symptoms might signal that you’re experiencing late effects of cancer treatment?

Talk to your oncologist or doctor about the late effects of your particular treatment. They will know what effects are at risk to you. But the late effects of many treatments still aren’t known.  I had to do research on medical problems I exprienced, and it took many visits to hospital to be able to persuade doctors that conditions such as Neuropathy WERE long-term side effects.  Now one hospital that was extremely sceptical has a notice on the Outpatients’ Waiting Room, warning about symptoms of Neuropathy!

Your oncologist/doctor might be able to help you understand what signs and symptoms are clues that you’re experiencing certain late effects of your cancer treatment. They might also screen you for late effects of treatment when you come in for follow-up appointments after your cancer treatment is completed.

Report to your oncologist or doctor any signs or symptoms that concern you. It’s best to have them checked out so that, at the very least, you don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what could be wrong.

If you were treated for cancer many years ago or are no longer seeing a cancer specialist for checkups, talk to your GP about late effects. If you think you might be experiencing late effects or your doctor isn’t sure what late effects to watch for, ask for a referral to a cancer specialist.

There is not much you can do to prevent late effects of cancer treatment, but don’t be fobbed off or brushed aside if you supect you are experiencing long term side effects.

It isn’t clear that late effects are preventable or why some people might experience late effects while others don’t.  And remember the wise words of a marvellous doctor I had, “I always listen to my patients, particularly female patients.  They know what their bodies are doing., better than anyone else. 

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