Late effects

Late effects of treatment

Some late effects of treatment can develop many months or years later. Your doctor or specialist nurse can explain these to you. Ask for advice on whether there’s anything you can do to help reduce the risk of some late effects. 

Lymphoedema

Radiotherapy or surgery to the lymph nodes can sometimes cause swelling called lymphoedema. Lymphoedema usually affects an arm or a leg, but it depends on the cancer and the area treated.

Follow the advice your nurse gave you to reduce the risk of lymphoedema. This includes looking after and protecting your skin in the area that is at risk. If you notice any swelling in that area ask your doctor or nurse to check it. The earlier lymphoedema is diagnosed, the easier it is to manage and treat successfully.

Effects on the heart

Some chemotherapy drugs, the targeted therapy drug trastuzumab (Herceptin®), or radiotherapy close to the heart may increase the risk of heart problems in the future. Being physically active and keeping to a healthy weight helps look after your heart.

Effects on bones

Hormone treatments for breast cancer and prostate cancer can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Weight-bearing exercise such as walking and resistance exercise will help to look after your bones.

Late effects of radiotherapy

Usually, the side effects of radiotherapy gradually improve after it finishes. But sometimes people may have long-term side effects.

For example, radiotherapy to the head and neck area may cause a dry mouth.

Radiotherapy to the pelvis may cause changes in your bowel habit or the need to pass urine more often.

You may develop some late effects after breast cancer treatment.

Second cancer

Some cancer treatments can slightly increase the risk of developing another cancer some years in the future. But the chances of this happening are low and the benefits of treatment will far outweigh any risk.

Back to Managing treatment effects

Immediate effects

After your cancer treatment finishes you may still have some side effects for a few weeks or months.