Cancer survivors: Late effects of cancer treatment

Learn about late and long-term effects of cancer treatment so that you can take control of your health as a cancer survivor.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your cancer treatment is over, but the effects of treatment might continue. The treatments that may have saved your life may also cause side effects going forward.

As more people live longer after treatment, more is being found out about late side effects.

Find out all you can about late effects of cancer treatment. Use this information to help manage your health.

What are late effects of cancer treatment?

Late effects are side effects of cancer treatment that show up after your treatment has ended. Cancer survivors might have late effects of cancer treatment years later.

What cancer treatments cause late effects?

Late effects of cancer treatment can come from any of the main treatment types. These include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, surgery, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. As newer cancer treatments become available, these might be found to cause late effects, too.

Treatment Late effects
  • Dental problems
  • Early menopause
  • Hearing loss
  • Heart problems
  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Infertility
  • Loss of taste
  • Lung disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Memory issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Problems with digestion
  • Reduced lung capacity
Radiation therapy
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Early menopause
  • Heart and vascular problems
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Infertility
  • Intestinal problems
  • Lung disease
  • Lymphedema
  • Memory issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lymphedema
Hormone therapy
  • Blood clots
  • Hot flashes
  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sexual side effects
  • Joint or muscle problems
Targeted therapy
  • Blood clots
  • Heart and vascular problems

Not everyone who has cancer treatment gets each of the late effects. Some people might not have any late effects.

Different chemotherapy medicines cause different late effects. So if you didn't receive the chemotherapy medicines that can cause infertility, you aren't believed to be at risk of that late effect.

Late effects of radiation and surgery affect only the area of the body exposed to them. If radiation was used on a body part other than the head or neck, there won't be a risk of cavities and tooth decay.

What are the late effects of treatment for childhood cancer?

People who underwent cancer treatment as children may be at risk of many of the same late side effects that can happen after cancer treatment in adults.

Childhood cancer survivors may be at risk of additional late side effects. That's because children's bones, tissues and organs grow quickly. Cancer treatment can interfere during this critical time of growth.

Late side effects in childhood cancer survivors depend on the type of cancer and treatment. The age at which you were treated may determine what late side effects, if any, you might have.

Childhood cancer survivors experience some of these late side effects:

  • Heart problems, including a higher risk of heart attack
  • Blood vessel problems, including a higher risk of stroke
  • Lung problems, which can cause difficulty breathing
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Cataracts
  • Bone problems, such as joint pain and bone thinning, which is also called osteoporosis
  • Short stature, caused by slow bone growth
  • Obesity
  • Infertility
  • Memory issues and learning disabilities
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Thyroid problems
  • Increased risk of other types of cancers
  • Nerve damage

Some of these problems are common as people age. Someone who was treated for cancer many years ago might not realize these problems could be related to past cancer treatment. Make sure your health care provider knows about your childhood cancer treatments.

If your parents or other family members have records of your treatment, give those to your provider. Save any records that explain what chemotherapy and radiation treatments you had. Keep them so you can share them with other health care providers you might see in the future.

What symptoms might mean that you're experiencing late effects of cancer treatment?

Talk to your health care provider about the late effects of your treatment. For some treatments, the late effects are known. Your provider may know what effects to watch for. But the late effects of some newer treatments still aren't known.

Your provider might be able to help you understand what symptoms might mean that you're experiencing late effects of cancer treatment. Your provider also might screen you for late effects of treatment when you come in for follow-up appointments after your treatment is completed.

Report to your provider any symptoms that concern you. It's best to have them checked so that you don't worry about what could be wrong.

If you were treated for cancer many years ago or are no longer seeing a cancer specialist, talk to your usual health care provider about late effects. If you think you might be experiencing late effects or your provider isn't sure what late effects to watch for, ask for a referral to a cancer specialist.

What can you do to prevent late effects of cancer treatment?

It isn't clear that late effects can be prevented or why some people might experience late effects while others don't. While this can be frustrating, you can take steps to help cope should you experience late effects. Help your body feel stronger and healthier by exercising and eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Don't use tobacco. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Protect your skin from the sun.

Nov. 04, 2022 See more In-depth

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  12. Myths about cancer causes
  13. Infographic: Cancer Clinical Trials Offer Many Benefits
  14. Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping
  15. Cancer-related fatigue
  16. Cancer pain: Relief is possible
  17. Cancer-prevention strategies
  18. Cancer risk: What the numbers mean
  19. Cancer surgery
  20. Cancer survival rate
  21. Cancer survivors: Care for your body after treatment
  22. Cancer survivors: Managing your emotions after cancer treatment
  23. Cancer survivorship program
  24. Cancer treatment
  25. Cancer treatment myths
  26. Cancer-related fatigue
  27. Cancer-related pain
  28. Cancer-related weakness
  29. Chemo targets
  30. Chemoembolization
  31. Chemotherapy
  32. Chemotherapy and hair loss: What to expect during treatment
  33. Chemotherapy and sex: Is sexual activity OK during treatment?
  34. Chemotherapy nausea and vomiting: Prevention is best defense
  35. Chemotherapy side effects: A cause of heart disease?
  36. Complete blood count (CBC)
  37. Cough
  38. CT scan
  39. Curcumin: Can it slow cancer growth?
  40. Cancer-related diarrhea
  41. Eating during cancer treatment: Tips to make food tastier
  42. Fatigue
  43. Fertility preservation
  44. Heart cancer: Is there such a thing?
  45. High-dose vitamin C: Can it kill cancer cells?
  46. Honey: An effective cough remedy?
  47. Infographic: CAR-T Cell Therapy
  48. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
  49. Intrathecal chemotherapy
  50. Joint pain
  51. Low blood counts
  52. Magic mouthwash
  53. Medical marijuana
  54. Microwave ablation for cancer
  55. Mindfulness exercises
  56. Minimally invasive cancer surgery
  57. Monoclonal antibody drugs
  58. Mort Crim and Cancer
  59. Mouth sores caused by cancer treatment: How to cope
  60. MRI
  61. Muscle pain
  62. Needle biopsy
  63. Night sweats
  64. No appetite? How to get nutrition during cancer treatment
  65. Palliative care
  66. PALS (Pets Are Loving Support)
  67. Pelvic exenteration
  68. PET/MRI scan
  69. Precision medicine for cancer
  70. Radiation therapy
  71. Seeing inside the heart with MRI
  72. Self-Image During Cancer
  73. Sentinel lymph node mapping
  74. Sisters' Bone Marrow Transplant
  75. Sleep tips
  76. Small cell, large cell cancer: What this means
  77. Stem Cells 101
  78. Stem cells: What they are and what they do
  79. Surgical biopsy
  80. Tumor vs. cyst: What's the difference?
  81. TVEC (Talimogene laherparepvec) injection
  82. Ultrasound
  83. Unexplained weight loss
  84. Stem cell transplant
  85. How cancer spreads
  86. MRI
  87. PICC line placement
  88. When cancer returns: How to cope with cancer recurrence
  89. Wide local skin excision
  90. X-ray