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Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

Side Effects

The side effects of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment depend mainly on the type and extent of the therapy. The side effects of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may not be the same for everyone, and they may even change from one treatment to the next. Doctors and nurses can explain the possible side effects of treatment. They can also lessen or control many of the side effects that may occur during and after treatment.

Treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are very powerful. It is hard to limit the effects of cancer therapy so that only cancer cells are removed or destroyed. Because non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment also damages healthy cells and tissues, it often causes side effects.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Chemotherapy Side Effects

One of the most common methods of treating non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is with chemotherapy. The side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on the drugs and the doses the patient receives. As with other types of treatment, side effects may vary from person to person.

Anticancer drugs generally affect cells that divide rapidly. In addition to cancer cells, these include blood cells, which fight infection, help the blood to clot, or carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When blood cells are affected, the patient is more likely to get infections, may bruise or bleed easily, and may feel unusually weak and tired. The patient's blood count is monitored during chemotherapy and, if necessary, the doctor may decide to postpone treatment to allow blood counts to recover.

Cells in hair roots also divide rapidly; therefore, chemotherapy may lead to hair loss. Patients may have other side effects such as poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, or mouth and lip sores. They may also experience dizziness and darkening of skin and fingernails.

Most of the side effects experienced during the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma go away gradually during the recovery periods between treatments or after treatment is over. However, certain anticancer drugs can increase the risk of developing a second cancer later in life.

In some men and women, chemotherapy causes a loss of fertility (the ability to produce children). Loss of fertility may be temporary or permanent, depending on the drugs used and the patient's age. For men, sperm banking before treatment may be an option. Women's menstrual periods may stop, and they may have hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Menstrual periods are more likely to return in young women.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy in Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Patients

The side effects of radiation depend on the treatment dose and the part of the body that is treated. During radiation therapy, people are likely to become extremely tired, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Rest is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay as active as they can.

It is common to lose hair in the treated area and for the skin to become red, dry, tender, or itchy. There may also be permanent darkening or "bronzing" of the skin in the treated area.

When the chest and neck are treated, patients may have a dry, sore throat and trouble swallowing. Some patients may have tingling or numbness in their arms, legs, and lower back. Radiation therapy to the abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or urinary discomfort. Often, changes in diet or medicine can ease these problems.

Radiation therapy also may cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells, cells that help protect the body against infection. If that happens, patients need to be careful to avoid possible sources of infection. The doctor monitors a patient's blood count during radiation therapy. In some cases, treatment may have to be postponed to allow blood counts to recover.

Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be difficult, they can usually be treated or controlled. It may also help to know that, in most cases, side effects are not permanent. However, patients may want to discuss with their doctor the possible long-term effects of radiation treatment on fertility and the increased chance of second cancers after treatment is over.

Bone Marrow Transplantation Side Effects for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Patients who have a bone marrow transplant as part of their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment face an increased risk of infection, bleeding, and other side effects from the large doses of chemotherapy and radiation they receive. In addition, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) may occur in patients who receive bone marrow from a donor. In GVHD, the donated marrow attacks the patient's tissues (most often the liver, the skin, and the digestive tract). GVHD can range from mild to very severe. It can occur any time after the transplant (even years later). Drugs may be given to reduce the risk of GVHD and to treat the problem if it occurs.

Side Effects of Biological Therapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

The side effects caused by biological therapy vary with the specific type of treatment. These treatments may cause flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, muscle aches, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Patients also may bleed or bruise easily, get a skin rash, or retain fluid. These problems can be severe, but they usually go away after treatment stops.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Surgery Side Effects

The side effects of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma surgery depend on the location of the tumor, the type of operation, the patient's general health, and other factors. Although patients are often uncomfortable during the first few days after surgery, the pain can usually be controlled with medicine. People can talk with their doctor or nurse about pain relief. It is also common for patients to feel tired or weak for a while. The length of time it takes to recover from an operation varies for each patient.

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