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

See also

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  3. Alternative cancer treatments: 11 options to consider
  4. Atypical cells: Are they cancer?
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  6. Biopsy procedures
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  10. Cancer
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  13. Myths about cancer causes
  14. Infographic: Cancer Clinical Trials Offer Many Benefits
  15. Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping
  16. Cancer-related fatigue
  17. Cancer pain: Relief is possible
  18. Cancer-prevention strategies
  19. Cancer risk: What the numbers mean
  20. Cancer surgery
  21. Cancer survival rate
  22. Cancer survivors: Care for your body after treatment
  23. Cancer survivors: Managing your emotions after cancer treatment
  24. Cancer survivorship program
  25. Cancer treatment
  26. Cancer treatment decisions: 5 steps to help you decide
  27. Cancer treatment myths
  28. Cancer-related fatigue
  29. Cancer-related pain
  30. Cancer-related weakness
  31. Chemo Targets
  32. Chemoembolization
  33. Chemotherapy
  34. Chemotherapy and hair loss: What to expect during treatment
  35. Chemotherapy and sex: Is sexual activity OK during treatment?
  36. Chemotherapy nausea and vomiting: Prevention is best defense
  37. Chemotherapy side effects: A cause of heart disease?
  38. Complete blood count (CBC)
  39. Cough
  40. CT scan
  41. Curcumin: Can it slow cancer growth?
  42. Cancer-related diarrhea
  43. Eating during cancer treatment: Tips to make food tastier
  44. Fatigue
  45. Fertility preservation
  46. Heart cancer: Is there such a thing?
  47. High-dose vitamin C: Can it kill cancer cells?
  48. Honey: An effective cough remedy?
  49. Infographic: CAR-T Cell Therapy
  50. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
  51. Intrathecal chemotherapy
  52. Joint pain
  53. Low blood counts
  54. Magic mouthwash
  55. Medical marijuana
  56. Microwave ablation for cancer
  57. Mindfulness exercises
  58. Minimally invasive cancer surgery
  59. Monoclonal antibody drugs
  60. Mort Crim and Cancer
  61. Mouth sores caused by cancer treatment: How to cope
  62. MRI
  63. Muscle pain
  64. Needle biopsy
  65. Night sweats
  66. No appetite? How to get nutrition during cancer treatment
  67. Palliative care
  68. PALS (Pets Are Loving Support)
  69. Pelvic exenteration
  70. PET/MRI scan
  71. Radiation therapy
  72. Infographic: Scalp Cooling Therapy for Cancer
  73. Seeing inside the heart with MRI
  74. Self-Image During Cancer
  75. Sentinel lymph node mapping
  76. Sisters' Bone Marrow Transplant
  77. Sleep tips
  78. Mediterranean diet
  79. Radiation simulation
  80. Small cell, large cell cancer: What this means
  81. Stem Cells 101
  82. Stem cells: What they are and what they do
  83. Thalidomide: Research advances in cancer and other conditions
  84. Tumor vs. cyst: What's the difference?
  85. TVEC (Talimogene laherparepvec) injection
  86. Ultrasound
  87. Unexplained weight loss
  88. Stem cell transplant
  89. How cancer spreads
  90. MRI
  91. PICC line placement
  92. When cancer returns: How to cope with cancer recurrence
  93. Wide local skin excision
  94. X-ray