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Chemotherapy treatment

Why and how you might have chemotherapy for laryngeal cancer.

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Why you have it

Chemotherapy with radiotherapy

For locally advanced or advanced laryngeal cancer, you might have radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time. This is called chemoradiotherapy. 

You might have chemoradiotherapy to try and cure your cancer instead of having your larynx removed with surgery.

Some people have surgery after having chemoradiotherapy. Some people don’t need surgery, as they have no sign of cancer after having chemoradiotherapy. If the cancer does come back later, you can have surgery to remove it then.

One advantage of this treatment is that there’s a chance you will still be able to speak afterwards. But chemoradiotherapy is a tough treatment. You have tests to see if you’re fit enough to cope. If you are not, you might have surgery to remove the cancer and radiotherapy after that.

Chemotherapy before surgery

You might have chemotherapy to treat advanced laryngeal cancer that has not spread to another organ, but which can't be removed with surgery.

This treatment aims to shrink the cancer so it can then be operated on. It is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy for advanced cancer

Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat advanced laryngeal cancer, or cancer that has come back after treatment with radiotherapy. It can relieve symptoms and may slow the growth of your cancer. This is called palliative chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs

The chemotherapy drugs used most often to treat laryngeal cancer are: 

  • cisplatin
  • fluorouracil
  • capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • carboplatin (Paraplatin)
  • paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)

Most of the chemotherapy drugs you have for laryngeal cancer are given into your bloodstream (intravenously). Capecitabine is a tablet.

Into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

Taking tablets

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You’ll sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take newspapers, books or electronic devices to help to pass the time.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump you take home.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • a lower resistance to infections
  • bleeding and bruising easily
Contact the doctor or nurse immediately if you have any signs of infection such as a temperature higher than 38C or generally feeling unwell. Infections can make you very unwell very quickly.

Side effects depend on:

  • which drugs you have
  • how much of each drug you have
  • how you react

Tell your treatment team about any side effects that you have.

Most side effects only last for the few days that you’re having the chemotherapy drugs. The team caring for you can help to reduce your side effects.

Dietary or herbal supplements

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements might interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful.

It is very important to tell your doctors if you take any supplements, or if you are prescribed them by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners. 

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations might make some chemotherapy drugs work less well. If you take or are thinking of taking these supplements, talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

When you go home

Chemotherapy for laryngeal cancer can be difficult to cope with. Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects that you have. The nurse will give you telephone numbers to call if you have any problems at home.

Last reviewed: 
21 Jul 2015
  • Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology (Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology)
    V Devita and others (2015) 10th edition 

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