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Leukemia treatment can cause a number of side effects. For instance, chemotherapy drugs can be very effective for destroying cancerous cells, but these medications are so powerful that they may sometimes damage healthy cells in the process. In most cases, any resulting health issues will be temporary and resolve after treatment is completed.

The best way to prepare yourself for the side effects of leukemia treatment is to talk with your physician before you begin your therapy. By learning about the possible side effects and the options you have to manage them, you will feel more in control and confident about the road that lies ahead.

What will I experience during leukemia treatment?

All forms of leukemia treatment – including chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation – can potentially produce unwanted side effects. Those that are most likely to occur include mouth ulcers, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, skin rashes, loss of appetite and fatigue. Some other possible side effects include:

  • Low blood cell counts – Leukemia treatment is designed to target abnormal blood cells, but it can sometimes affect healthy blood cells as well, resulting in an overall decline in blood cell production.
  • Infections – Because white blood cells help your body’s immune system fight off germs and other invaders, a reduced white blood cell count can make you more susceptible to infections.
  • Graft versus host disease (GVHD) – If you undergo an allogeneic stem cell transplantation, you may develop GVHD, which occurs when donor immune cells mistakenly target healthy cells.
  • Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS) – Sometimes induced by chemotherapy, TLS is a metabolic abnormality that results from a sudden release of dying cancer cells into the bloodstream. Left untreated, TLS can lead to serious medical complications, such as heart arrhythmias, seizures, loss of muscle control and kidney failure.
  • Hyperglycemia and steroid-induced diabetes – Certain corticosteroids can produce high blood sugar levels, which can lead to the development of health complications if you are diabetic.

If you would like to discuss the possible side effects of your leukemia treatment with an oncologist in the Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment with or without a referral by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. Our supportive care specialists can help you manage your discomfort and achieve the best possible quality of life both during and after your therapy.