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Treatment can help put your follicular lymphoma into remission, but it can also cause side effects that give you other health problems. These can happen when the treatment destroys your healthy cells along with your lymphoma cells.

The good news is that most side effects get better after you’ve finished treatment. But some are more serious and stay long after your treatment has ended.

What Are the Side Effects of Treatment?

They depend on your type of treatment -- and how much of it you have.

Fortunately, the ways doctors treat follicular lymphoma today have fewer long-term side effects than those in the past. They often use the same therapies, but they give you a lower dose.

That means fewer side effects.

Researchers have found you can often get the same results with less intense treatment. Plus, newer treatments are better at targeting your cancer cells while preserving your healthy ones.

Here’s a look at some treatments for follicular lymphoma and the side effects they can cause:


In this treatment, a focused beam of radiation is used to destroy cancer cells. Side effects depend on what part of your body gets this. Some common ones include:

  • Red, blistered, peeling skin
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Trouble swallowing

You may have nausea and diarrhea when you have radiation to your belly. Mouth sores and swallowing problems are more common when radiation is focused on your head and your neck.

Long-term side effects that can happen with radiation to different parts of your body are:

  • Chest radiation: Lung damage, breathing problems, heart problems, and a higher chance of lung and breast cancer
  • Head and neck radiation: Thyroid and dental problems
  • Brain radiation: Headache, memory loss, trouble focusing, and changes in your personality
  • Abdomen radiation: Diabetes, lower fertility (in all genders), and early menopause

Radiation therapy can also cause you to develop the bone condition known as osteoporosis.


Chemotherapy is a cancer-fighting drug you get through an IV or you take by mouth. Most people with follicular lymphoma who need treatment will get this, either by itself or with other therapies. Side effects include:

  • Low blood cell count. Too few blood cells can cause you to have extreme tiredness (fatigue), bleeding, and bruising, and make you more likely to get an infection. If you have a fever, contact your doctor or go to the hospital right away.
  • Nerve damage. This is called neuropathy. It causes you to have numbness and tingling in your fingertips and toes. For some people, it never goes away.
  • Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS). This is a serious condition that happens when your cancer cells break down and inundate your bloodstream with harmful chemicals and toxins. Without treatment, it can cause you to have heart rhythm problems, seizures, loss of muscle control, kidney failure, and even death.

Other common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea and other bowel problems
  • Hair loss
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • A change in your memory, focus, attention, and complex thinking (called “chemo brain”)
  • Skin changes (dry, sore, and itchy)
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of appetite

Long-term side effects include:

  • Bladder damage
  • Heart damage
  • Lung damage
  • Fertility issues
  • Increased risk of developing leukemia

Targeted treatments and antibody therapy

These focus on your lymphoma cells and attack them with accuracy.

Your result: They usually cause fewer day-to-day and long-term side effects than other treatments. Still, they can cause unwanted reactions such as:

  • Low blood cell counts
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling less hungry
  • Nerve damage
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Coughing
  • Rash
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Pneumonia
  • Belly pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fewer bowel movements
  • Fever

More serious side effects involve bleeding, infections, lung inflammation, and heart rhythm problems. You could also have a higher chance of skin cancer, so be sure to shield your skin from the sun.

Scientists are still collecting data on targeted treatments to understand their side effects and whether the reactions are different when you combine them with standard chemotherapy.


This boosts your immune system to destroy cancer cells or keep them from growing. You take immunotherapy by vein using an IV. One treatment can last for hours.

Side effects are usually mild, but serious ones can occur. Depending on the drug, common side effects include:

  • Itching
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Headache
  • Skin color changes where the drug is injected
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling less hungry
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Hand or leg swelling
  • Low blood cell counts
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Abnormal liver function tests
  • Nerve damage
  • Pneumonia

Some less common but serious side effects include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Face and tongue swelling
  • Cough
  • Breathing problems
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling faint
  • Reactivated hepatitis B infection
  • Other infections
  • Fluid in or around your lungs, heart, and abdomen
  • Very low blood counts
  • Skin reactions after sun exposure
  • Stroke
  • Blood vessel tearing
  • Blood clots
  • Cytokine release syndrome
  • Nervous system problems

Let your doctor know immediately if you have any side effects. If they’re severe, call 911.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: RUNSTUDIO / Getty Images


Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: “Side Effects.”

CancerCare: “Understanding Follicular Lymphoma.”

Blood cancer UK: “Follicular lymphoma treatment and side effects.”

Lymphoma Action: “Side effects of lymphoma treatment,” “Late effects of lymphoma treatment.”

American Cancer Society: “Treating Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.”