The methods used to treat Hodgkin's disease are very powerful. The treatment often causes side effects, both short-term and permanent. Side effects depend on the type of treatment and on the part of the body being treated. Also, each patient may respond differently.
During radiation therapy, patients may become unusually tired as therapy continues. Testing as much as possible is important. Skin reactions (redness or dryness) in the area being treated are also common. Patients should be gentle with the treated area of skin. Lotions and creams should not be used without the doctor's advice. When the chest is treated, patients may have a dry, sore throat and may have trouble swallowing. Sometimes, they have shortness of breath or a dry cough. Radiation treatment to the lower abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Some patients have tingling or numbness in their arms, legs and lower back. These side effects gradually disappear when treatment is over.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on the drugs that are given. In general, anticancer drugs affect rapidly growing cells, such as blood cells that fight infection, cells that line the digestive tract, and cells in hair follicles. As a result, patients may have side effects such as lower resistance to infection, nausea, vomiting or mouth sores. They may also have less energy and may lose their hair.
Loss of appetite can be a problem for patients receiving radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Researchers are learning that patients who eat well may be better able to tolerate the side effects of their treatment. Therefore, nutrition is an important part of the treatment plan. Eating well means getting enough calories to prevent weight loss and having enough protein in the diet to build and repair skin, hair, muscles and organs. Many patients find that eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day is easier than trying to have three large meals.
Treatment for Hodgkin's disease can cause fertility problems. Women's menstrual periods may stop. Periods are more likely to return in younger women. In men, both Hodgkin's disease and its treatment can affect fertility. Younger men are more likely to regain their fertility. Sperm banking before treatment may be an option for some men.
The side effects that patients have during cancer therapy vary from person to person and may even be different from one treatment to the next. Doctors, nurses and dietitians can explain the side effects of cancer treatment and can suggest ways to deal with them.