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I Never Knew There Were 'Late Effects'

The very treatment that rids you of cancer can cause problems later, just when you thought you were safe.

As more people survive cancer, more problems pop up years after treatment. The cancer may come back or cause lingering effects. And many of the treatments used for cancer are toxic and can cause issues down the road.

Chemotherapy may:

  • Damage the kidneys, lungs and heart
  • Affect the nervous system, causing numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Cause cognitive or personality changes
  • Trigger another cancer years later


Radiation can create:

  • Problems in tissues or glands in surrounding areas
  • Scarring and/or hardening of tissue, blood vessels or lungs
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Heart problems
  • Brain necrosis, or death of tissue
  • Other types of cancer, including leukemia and solid tumors


Once you pass the five-year survival mark, you'll probably stop seeing your cancer doctor and return to your primary care doctor. Your primary care doctor may know little about your cancer experience, so for your long-term health and wel-being, you need to develop a personal, written follow-up plan with your cancer doctor before returning to a primary care setting.

Your individual plan should include:

  • Your cancer diagnosis
  • Treatment details (including timing, dosage and duration of chemotherapy or other methods)
  • Potential side effects of the cancer and treatment
  • Recommendations for frequency of follow-up visits
  • Tests to be performed during appointments
  • Tips for staying healthy and preventing recurrences or secondary cancers
  • Possible late effects of your cancer and treatment


Once you're back to "normal," be sure to follow your doctor's guidelines for checkups and other care. In addition, make your best efforts to live a healthy life: Get plenty of exercise, minimize stress and eat a healthful diet.

Printed with permission from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center © 2010.

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