The aim of treatment for lymphoma is to destroy all of the lymphoma cells. However, all treatments for lymphoma have other, unwanted effects on the body, which are called ‘side effects’.
Treatments for lymphoma affect everyone differently. Each type of treatment or drug has a different set of possible side effects. The dose and treatment schedule (how often you have the drug or treatment) and the combination of treatments you have affect what side effects you get. Side effects also vary in how severe they are; some people have only mild side effects while others have more troublesome effects. Although some side effects for each treatment are common, not everyone gets them.
It is difficult to predict how a treatment may affect you. However, before you start any treatment, it is very important that you tell your doctor about any medical conditions you have other than lymphoma. Some conditions mean you could have more serious side effects with certain treatments.
You must also tell your doctor about any other treatments you are taking, including drugs, vitamins and herbal remedies. Drugs can interact with each other, which might make them more or less effective. These interactions could also cause very serious side effects.
Side effects tend to be short-term, but some can last for a few weeks or months after treatment has finished (long-term side effects), eg fatigue and peripheral neuropathy. Occasionally, side effects may be permanent. Some side effects can occur later in life (late effects).
Each treatment has its own set of most common side effects. Ask your doctor for information on the possible side effects of any treatments they recommend. Talk to your medical team if you are having any side effects even if they seem minor. Your medical team want to help make your treatment as comfortable as possible for you. They can offer tailored advice to help you cope with your symptoms. There are often treatments available that can help with side effects or it might be possible to change your treatment slightly, eg reduce the speed at which a drug is given.
Our pages provide practical advice on dealing with specific side effects. This is not a comprehensive list of the side effects you might have. There are many, less common side effects that we do not mention here. Our helpline may be able to direct you to more information. Please call them at 0800 808 5555.
We also have information about diet and nutrition, which includes suggestions to help with eating problems that commonly affect people who are having treatment for lymphoma.
Some symptoms occur in many people treated for lymphoma. These can be side effects of treatment or may be caused by the lymphoma itself, for example:
Side effects of chemotherapy
There are some side effects that are common for many types of chemotherapy. Because chemotherapy drugs work by killing any dividing cells, they can damage healthy cells as well as lymphoma cells. It is this damage to healthy cells that causes many of the side effects of chemotherapy. Healthy cells in the body that are dividing include those in the gut, the hair follicles and the bone marrow, which is why the following side effects are common:
Other side effects can occur, including:
- sore mouth or throat or changes in taste and appetite
- peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
- changes in bowel habits, eg constipation or diarrhoea.
Bladder irritation can occur. Your medical team might recommend that you drink 2 litres of fluid for 2 days following chemotherapy treatment to avoid it. They should tell you what to do if you have any symptoms of bladder irritation like burning, stinging or blood in your urine.
There are many less common side effects of chemotherapy, eg gout. Gout is a painful inflammation (redness and swelling) in your joints that can happen when cells are broken down rapidly during your first course of chemotherapy, leading to a build-up of uric acid in your joints.
NHS Choices have more information on gout.
Side effects of radiotherapy
The side effects of radiotherapy depend on the area of your body that is treated. For example, if you have radiotherapy to the head, neck or upper chest you may have a sore mouth or throat. Many people treated with radiotherapy have sore skin in the treated area.
Side effects of other treatments for lymphoma
Other treatments for lymphoma also can cause side effects. The most common side effects of these treatments are described within relevant pages:
- antibody therapy, rituximab
- newer, targeted treatments for lymphoma
- supportive treatments, which don’t treat the lymphoma but support your body through treatment.
You are very likely to get side effects as part of your treatment, but try not to be discouraged. Side effects are usually temporary and often things can be done to make them easier to cope with.
Tell your medical team if you are having any side effects. You should also let them know if your side effects change during your treatment or don’t get better. Unless you tell them, your medical team won’t know how you are feeling. There are treatments to help with many side effects. Some problems can be treated more effectively if they are caught early. Your medical team can also give you advice to help you cope with side effects.