Potential late effects of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment

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Learn about long-term and late effects from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment.

Key points

  • Leukemia medicines can damage healthy cells, which can be a side effect years after treatment.
  • Specific types of chemotherapy can cause potential long-term effects.

Your child takes many medicines during leukemia treatment. Although medicines do a good job of killing leukemic cells, they can affect normal cells as well. Damage to healthy cells in different parts of the body can appear as side effects many years after your child finishes treatment.

Some children develop side effects during therapy that continue to affect them after they finish treatment. This is called a long-term effect. Alternatively, some health problems may arise many years later. These are called late effects.

Many of the potential long-term effects are a consequence of specific types of chemotherapy. Some children also receive radiation to the brain. This is called cranial radiation therapy (CRT). CRT may put your child more at risk for some of the effects discussed in this section.

Much of doctors’ current understanding of the long-term and late effects of leukemia treatment comes from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), which was launched in the early 1990s.

Fortunately, improvements to current leukemia therapies allow many survivors to live normal lives. Many childhood leukemia survivors experience minimal late or long-term effects.

Last updated: March 6th 2018