When you finish treatment for blood (hematologic) cancer – or even if you need ongoing therapies to stop it from spreading – it’s natural to be unsure about what to expect as a cancer survivor. Blood cancer survivorship care is designed to help you prepare for potential side effects and support all aspects of your health – mind, body, and spirit.
Medical advancements in blood cancer treatments have led to increased survival rates, but some therapies can cause long-term or late effects – symptoms that develop years after treatment is finished. These may include heart and lung problems, fertility issues, liver and kidney damage, and increased risk for other types of cancer.
Not everyone experiences side effects, but it’s comforting to know you have an expert team you can count on to help you feel your best. At Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, you get expert, ongoing survivorship care to manage treatment side effects and check for cancer recurrence. We also have comprehensive survivorship services, including specialized programs for teens and young adults, fertility treatments, and mental well-being.
Who are blood cancer survivors?
Whether you were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma, you’re a blood cancer survivor! However, your care doesn’t stop there. Follow-up care, routine examinations and healthy living are all part of your continued recovery. Don’t worry; you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.
With input from your cancer team, you’ll receive a survivorship care plan. It includes information about your cancer treatment history and guidance for follow-up visits and testing to keep you healthy. You also get information about local and national organizations that support blood cancer survivors and families.
Blood cancer follow-up visits
You can expect to see your healthcare team regularly during the first year and then less frequently as time goes on. Your doctor will tell you how often you should have follow-up visits.
During your visits, you’ll have a physical exam and necessary testing – such as blood or bone marrow tests, imaging exams, and health screenings. These checkups let us look for signs of cancer and manage long-term side effects and late effects.
Depending on the type of blood cancer and the treatments you had, you may have additional screenings for different types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other conditions that affect blood cancer survivors.
Blood cancer treatment side effects
Although it’s common to experience long-term or late effects of leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma treatment, some survivors may not have treatment side effects. But some symptoms, like tiredness, can last for months or years after treatment is complete. Often, late effects like heart disease and other cancers may not develop until years after finishing treatment. Regardless of what your personal cancer recovery journey looks like, we will make sure you have all the care and support you need to manage side effects and stay healthy.
Leukemia side effects
Both childhood and adult leukemia survivors can experience late effects long after treatment is complete. The most common include chronic heart conditions, lung problems, liver disease, fertility problems, low bone density, reduced muscle strength, cancers, brain and nerve issues, and tiredness. Survivors may also experience mental side effects, such as learning problems or emotional distress.
Lymphoma side effects
Late and long-term side effects for both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivors can include fertility problems, infections due to immune system dysfunction, thyroid problems, heart disease, stroke, and lung damage. It’s also common for survivors of childhood lymphoma to have difficulties with normal functioning, school work, and emotional health.
Myeloma side effects
Treatment for myeloma can take many years, so we make sure you have all the care and support you need for a high quality of life. Long-term side effects may include nerve damage (neuropathy), weakened bones, low blood counts, and subsequent cancers.
Bone marrow transplant side effects
Bone marrow transplants, also called stem cell transplants, can cause temporary or long-term side effects. Both autologous transplants (use your stem cells) and allogeneic transplants (use someone else’s stem cells) weaken your immune system's ability to fight infections for up to a year after the procedure, but this is treated with medicine.
Long-term side effects can include early menopause and infertility, cataracts, thyroid problems, damage to your lungs or bones, or another cancer.
Managing long-term and late effects of blood cancer treatment
Your survivorship care plan and follow-up visits focus on keeping you healthy for years to come. But, there are things you can do to improve how you feel, such as:
- Keep your follow-up appointments. This lets us find any side effects or problems early so that we can treat them right away. These visits also give you a chance to bring up any concerns and get support.
- Write down your symptoms. Make a note of any physical or emotional symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. The more we know about how you’re feeling, the better we can support your well-being.
- Adopt healthy habits. Exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and don't smoke. Need help getting started? Your team is here to help.
How can I learn more about long-term follow-up care for blood cancer survivors?
Follow-up care is essential to keeping you healthy and ensuring you have the highest quality of life possible. To learn more about our survivorship care program and personalized services for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma survivors, email us at SCCCSURVIVORSHIP@miami.edu.