Many cancer drugs cause unwanted effects (side effects) because they damage normal cells as well as killing the cancer cells.
These might be short term side effects, which just last for the duration of your child’s treatment, or long term side effects, which might have an impact for weeks, months or years after your child’s treatment.
Different children have different responses to their treatment. Even if two children are having the same treatment, they may have a different experience. Your child might not get all, or even any, of these side effects – try to bear this in mind when you read about them. You may also like to talk about potential side effects with your healthcare team.
Potential side effects from chemotherapy
Specific types of chemotherapy drugs might have different side effects. It’s best to talk to your healthcare team about any potential side effects of any chemotherapy drugs your child might be having.
Short term side effects from chemotherapy
Your child may experience some short term side effects from chemotherapy treatment. They could include:
- an achy flu-like feeling
- bruising and bleeding
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- hair loss
- a sore mouth or mouth ulcers
- nausea and vomiting
- increased risk of bleeding/bruising.
Your child is unlikely to have all of these, and it’s important to remember that they are only temporary, but they can occur regularly. If your child does have side effects, tell your healthcare team as they may be able to help with them – there are medicines your child can take to help with nausea and vomiting, for instance.
Short term side effects from steroids
Your child’s treatment may also include steroids, which can also cause side effects such as:
- increased appetite
- mood changes and irritability
- weight gain (especially around the face and stomach)
- muscle weakness (especially in the legs)
- high blood sugar levels, which may require medication.
Again, if your child has any of these side effects it’s worth discussing this with your healthcare team as they may be able to help with them.
Long term side effects
With any type of chemotherapy, there’s always, at least, a small risk of long term side effects. These could include problems with the thyroid, heart or lung. The long term effects of chemotherapy depend on the intensity of your child’s treatment and, in some cases, the total amount of drugs your child takes.
It’s difficult to know exactly which drugs are responsible for which long term effects in situations like childhood leukaemia, where combinations of drugs are given over long periods of time. Your specialist will offer you detailed advice before your child begins their treatment.
Potential impact on your child’s fertility
You may be worried about the effect of treatment on your child’s fertility. It’s a concern that many parents have, and your specialist will be able to discuss this with you before your child begins their treatment.
It’s also natural to worry about the effects of treatment on any children your child may have later in life. A number of large studies in Britain and abroad have shown there’s no increased risk of cancer or other health problems in children whose parents received treatment for this type of cancer during childhood.