Possible long-term effects of treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
Unfortunately, treatment for AML can sometimes cause long-term effects on the body that may not occur until many years later. Your doctor or nurse will be able to talk to you about your risk of these effects, and offer advice on how to cope with them.
Changes to the way your heart works
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Some of the drugs used to treat AML may affect the heart muscle. These drugs are called anthracyclines and include daunorubicin and idarubicin. This doesn’t affect everyone who has these drugs. If it does occur, it’s usually a temporary side effect, but in some people it can lead to long-term heart problems. Your heart function will be carefully monitored during and after treatment, and the drugs you’re given may be altered if any heart problems occur.
Some of the drugs used to treat AML can cause temporary or permanent infertility. Your doctor will talk to you about this in more detail before you start your treatment. If you have a partner, you may want them to be with you at this appointment so you can discuss any fears or worries together.
Some drugs have less effect on your fertility than others, and couples have had healthy babies after one partner has been treated for leukaemia. Unfortunately, people who’ve had intensive chemotherapy (with or without radiotherapy), and a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, are likely to be permanently infertile.
It may be possible for men to store sperm before starting treatment, so it can be used later if they want to have a family. Rarely, a woman’s eggs or fertilised eggs (embryos) can be stored before chemotherapy, so that she may have the chance to have a child after treatment. However, as treatment for AML usually needs to start as quickly as possible, there’s not always enough time to store sperm or embryos.
Your doctor knows the details of the treatment you’re having, and is the best person to answer your questions. You can write down any questions you have so that you are clear about your treatment, and the effect it’s likely to have on you, before it starts.
Coping with infertility
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It can be very difficult to come to terms with the fact that you can no longer have children. Talking about your feelings with your partner, family or a close friend can help to clarify your thoughts and give the people close to you the opportunity to understand how you’re feeling. You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your immediate circle of friends and family. You can talk to your doctor, nurse, a social worker or a counsellor.
Our cancer support specialists can give you information about how to contact a counsellor in your area.
We have a section on relationships, sex and fertility for young people affected by cancer. We also have a section on relationships and communication that's written for people of all ages.