Late effects of treatment

Your doctor or nurse can explain the risk of any late effects of your treatment. Late effects are side effects that don’t improve or side effects you get months or years after treatment finishes. They can tell you if there is anything you should look out for. They can also tell you if there is anything you can do to reduce the risk of certain late effects.

For example, certain cancer drugs may increase the risk of different heart problems. Not smoking, keeping to a healthy weight and being more physically active can help to look after your heart.

Some hormonal therapy drugs may increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and resistance exercise, and a healthy balanced diet can help to look after your bones.

Radiotherapy to the lower tummy (pelvis) may cause bowel and bladder changes, such as diarrhoea or needing to pass wee (urine) more often. There are different ways these can be managed or treated successfully.

Always tell your doctor or nurse if side effects don’t improve or you get new symptoms.

Managing late effects of treatment

Late effects of treatment are side effects that can develop many months or years after treatment finishes. Or they may be side effects that carry on for longer and don’t go away.

Your doctor or specialist nurse can explain the risk of any possible late effects of your treatment. You can ask for advice on possible signs or symptoms to look out for. They can also tell you if there is anything you can do to help reduce the risk of certain late effects. This could include not smoking, keeping to a healthy weight and being more physically active.

We have included examples of some possible late effects. We have not listed them all. You can find more in our information on your type of cancer and our information on late effects below.

It is very important to tell your doctor about any new symptoms you get or if the symptoms you have don’t improve.


Lymphoedema

Radiotherapy or surgery to lymph nodes may cause a swelling called lymphoedema. There is a higher risk of lymphoedema if you had both treatments. Lymphoedema usually affects an arm or a leg, but can also affect other parts of the body. It depends which area was treated. Follow the advice from your nurse to reduce your risk. This includes looking after and protecting the skin in the area at risk of lymphoedema. If you notice any swelling, always ask your doctor or nurse to check it. The earlier lymphoedema is diagnosed, the easier it is to manage and treat successfully.


Effects on your heart

Certain cancer treatments may increase the risk of different types of heart problems in the future. Many people who have these drugs or treatments do not develop any heart problems. You can ask your doctor or nurse if there is a possible risk of this late effect with the treatment you have had.

There are things you can do to help look after your heart health. Stopping smoking is very important. Being physically active and keeping to a healthy weight will also help to look after your heart.

Chemotherapy drugs

Drugs called anthracyclines are the most common drugs to affect the heart. They include:

Some other chemotherapy drugs may also affect the heart.

Targeted therapy drugs

The following targeted therapy drugs can cause different types of heart problems:

Hormonal therapy drugs

Hormonal therapies are usually used to treat breast or prostate cancer. They can increase your risk of heart problems. They include:

Radiotherapy given close to the heart

Radiotherapy is only a possible risk if you have it to the left breast or the middle of the chest. Improvements in radiotherapy techniques mean this is less likely to be a problem.


Effects on the bones


Effects on the head and neck

Radiotherapy to the head and neck can cause late effects. For example, it can cause a dry mouth because you have less saliva or saliva may be stickier. Some people may lose their sense of taste. A dry mouth can often be managed by taking artificial saliva products and having sips of water often. Using a sodium bicarbonate mouthwash may help clear thick saliva.

After treatment, it is important to follow the advice you have been given. Keeping your teeth and mouth clean can also help. You will need to see your dentist and oral hygienist regularly.

Both surgery and radiotherapy can affect eating and speech. Specialist health professionals, such as dietitians and speech therapists, can help with changes to eating and speech.


Effects on the bowel and bladder

Radiotherapy to the lower tummy area (pelvis) can cause late effects of the bowel and bladder. These can often be managed or treated successfully. If the symptoms don't improve, your doctor can refer you to a bowel or bladder specialist.

Some people may have changes to their bowel habit, such as diarrhoea or constipation. Changing your diet to reduce foods high in fibre can often help manage bowel problems. You can also take medicines to help control diarrhoea or constipation.

Effects on the bladder can mean you need to pass wee (urine) more often and some people may get some leakage. Drinking plenty of fluids and keeping to a healthy weight can help to relieve pressure on your pelvic floor. Bladder training and pelvic floor exercises can also help.


Second cancer

Certain cancer treatments may slightly increase the risk of developing another cancer in the future. But the chances of this happening are low and the benefits of treatment will far outweigh any risk. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information about this.

Back to Managing treatment effects

Side effects of treatment

You may still have some side effects after treatment finishes. They usually improve over the following weeks or months.