What are late effects and long–term effects of cancer treatment?
Late effects are side effects of cancer treatment that become apparent after your treatment has ended. Cancer survivors might experience late effects of cancer treatment a few months after treatment is completed or years later. It isn't clear why these late effects are delayed.
Some doctors believe that late effects simply weren't noticed during and immediately after your treatment, though the damage may have been there all along. It could be that your body was compensating for the damage caused by cancer treatment and is no longer able to do that, revealing these late effects.
Long-term side effects usually are different from late side effects. For example, nerve damage is common during some types of chemotherapy and may begin during treatment and linger for months or even years after cancer treatment is completed. Most long–term effects lessen or completely resolve with time.
What cancer treatments cause late effects?
Late effects of cancer treatment can come from any of the three main types of cancer treatment: chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
In general, chemotherapy tends to cause more long–term side effects than late side effects in cancer survivors, though the late effects chemotherapy causes can be serious. Radiation usually causes more late effects in cancer survivors, though it can also cause long–term effects. If you have a combination of treatments, you're more likely to experience late effects.
Keep in mind that not everyone who has cancer treatment gets each of the long–term or late side effects, and some people might not experience any after–effects of treatment. Please talk to your oncology physician to understand what these might be.
What signs and symptoms might signal that you're experiencing late effects of cancer treatment?
Talk to your doctor about the late effects of your particular treatment. In some cases your doctor will know what effects you're at risk of. However, the late effects of many treatments still aren't known. Report to your doctor any signs or symptoms that bother 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. And catching late effects early gives you the best chance at treating them.
What can you do to prevent late effects of cancer treatment?
It isn't clear that late effects are preventable or why some people might experience late effects while others don't. This can be frustrating and is only made worse by the fact that relatively little is known about late effects of cancer treatment.
Don't feel hopeless. Take steps to make your body strong and healthy, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. This will help you deal better with late effects, should they develop.