Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that affects a particular type of white blood cell known as a lymphocyte. Lymphocytes are responsible for fighting against infections and are manufactured in the bone marrow. It is a slowly progressing cancer that typically affects older adults. Treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia works towards destroying the cancer cells, but they may also damage the normal cells.
Chemotherapy drugs also have many side effects, as do immunotherapies and targeted therapies. Here’s all you need to know about how to manage the side effects of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Common Side Effects of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment
There are many treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.(1,2) While treatment for this type of cancer typically targets the cancer cells, but they can also cause damage to the normal cells.(3) Chemotherapy drugs, immunotherapies, and targeted therapies cause various side effects as well.(4) During chemotherapy, the lining of the throat, mouth, stomach, and intestines are especially vulnerable to damage. Many treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia also cause damage to the cells of the immune system, leaving you at a high risk of getting a severe infection.(5,6)
Here are some of the most commonly experienced side effects of chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment:
- Aches and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in smell and taste
- Fever and chills
- Mouth sores
- Low blood cell counts, resulting in bruising and bleeding
- Reactions at the infusion site
It is possible for people to experience side effects with any treatment that is being administered for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but everyone experiences these in different ways. Here are some tips to help you manage the side effects of chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment.
Managing the Side Effects of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment
Don’t Stop Exercising
Many people feel fatigued and often don’t have the energy left to exercise after undergoing cancer treatments.(7) Some amount of exercise, even light exercise, is necessary when you are being treated for cancer. Exercise helps relieve nausea, fatigue, and constipation. It also improves the appetite and lifts your mood. Here are some light exercises you can consider to combat the side effects of treatment:
It is best to ask your doctor or at the hospital for a referral to a good fitness instructor or physical therapist who is experienced in working with people with cancer. Many local cancer support groups may also be able to give you a recommendation. It is important to always ask your doctor first before you begin any exercise program.
Take Care To Cut Down The Infection Risk
One of the biggest and most serious side effects of cancer treatment is the damage it does to the body’s immune system. As you receive chemotherapy, your doctor will continue to regularly monitor your red blood cell and platelet counts. It is vital that you take good care of yourself to cut down the risk of getting an infection, regardless of whether it’s caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi.
Here are some steps you can take to lower the risk of infections:
- Avoid being in crowded places or around children.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water.
- Get all your vaccinations before starting the treatment.
- Wash all fresh vegetables and fruits before having them.
- Cook any type of meat thoroughly and as per the recorded temperature.(8)
- Avoid using enemas, suppositories, and rectal thermometers. These may cause injury to the rectal area and increase the risk of harmful bacteria entering the body.
- Wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose when outside in a public place.
- Wash all scrapes, bruises, and cuts immediately with warm water and soap.
Keep Yourself Safe From Injuries
Having a low platelet count is a significant concern when undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Platelets are needed by the body to form blood clots. Having low levels of platelets can cause easy bruising and bleeding. This is why it is essential to be careful and protect yourself from getting injured.(9) Here are some tips to protect yourself:
- Avoid walking barefoot.
- Use an extra-soft toothbrush while brushing your teeth.
- Avoid using a razor and use an electric shaver instead.
- Avoid taking aspirin or any other medications that can lead to bleeding problems. Also, do not take any medicine without consulting your doctor.
- Do not drink alcohol without consulting your doctor.
- Avoid engaging in contact sports or other physical activities with a high risk of injury.
- Be careful while cooking or ironing.
Get Sufficient Sleep
Cancer treatment can be physically exhausting. Even though you may think you will fall right off to sleep, it can be difficult at times to sleep because of the stress and anxiety. Here are some tips to help improve your sleep quality and also decrease fatigue:
- Try going to bed at the same time each night.
- Avoid having caffeine and alcohol at least one hour before bedtime.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
- Try taking a warm bath or listening to calming music to establish a proper sleeping routine and help you wind down before bedtime.
- Avoid using the mobile phone and computer screen before bedtime.
- Avoid taking a nap in the daytime, and if you need to, try to limit them to just half an hour.
- Practice stress-relieving activities like meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation exercises before bedtime.
Take Your Medications
Chemotherapy is known to affect the digestive system due to which nausea and vomiting are common side effects. Some people also experience diarrhea and constipation.
These side effects of the digestive system can be managed with medications such as anti-diarrhea drugs, anti-emetics, and medicine for diarrhea.
As you start treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, it is important to remain in regular communication with your doctor and healthcare team. Make sure you inform your doctor about any change in your symptoms or if you start experiencing a new symptom. Keeping your healthcare team updated on your condition will help them tailor your treatment if required and also help improve your quality of life.
- Chiorazzi, N., Rai, K.R. and Ferrarini, M., 2005. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. New England Journal of Medicine, 352(8), pp.804-815.
- Rozman, C. and Montserrat, E., 1995. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. New England Journal of Medicine, 333(16), pp.1052-1057.
- Rai, K.R., Sawitsky, A., Cronkite, E.P., Chanana, A.D., Levy, R.N. and Pasternack, B.S., 1975. Clinical staging of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
- Abbott, B.L., 2006. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: recent advances in diagnosis and treatment. ONCOLOGIST-MIAMISBURG-, 11(1), p.21.
- Coates, A., Abraham, S., Kaye, S.B., Sowerbutts, T., Frewin, C., Fox, R.M. and Tattersall, M.H.N., 1983. On the receiving end—patient perception of the side-effects of cancer chemotherapy. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology, 19(2), pp.203-208.
- Henry, D.H., Viswanathan, H.N., Elkin, E.P., Traina, S., Wade, S. and Cella, D., 2008. Symptoms and treatment burden associated with cancer treatment: results from a cross-sectional national survey in the US. Supportive care in cancer, 16(7), pp.791-801.
- Wang, X.S. and Woodruff, J.F., 2015. Cancer-related and treatment-related fatigue. Gynecologic oncology, 136(3), pp.446-452.
- FoodSafety.gov. 2020. Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Charts. [online] Available at: <https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature> [Accessed 10 October 2020].
- Pereira, J. and Phan, T., 2004. Management of bleeding in patients with advanced cancer. The oncologist, 9(5), pp.561-570.
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