Chemotherapy drugs for anal cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Chemotherapy drugs for anal cancer

The drugs most commonly used for anal cancer are fluorouracil (5FU) and mitomycin C. Further down this page you can find names of other drugs you may have. The common side effects of chemotherapy for anal cancer include

  • A fall in the number of blood cells
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sore mouth and mouth ulcers
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Feeling tired and run down

You usually have chemotherapy into your blood stream (intravenously), through a drip. Though doctors are now looking at a tablet form of 5FU (called capecitabine) to treat anal cancer.

Side effects of chemotherapy for anal cancer

Drugs affect people in different ways. Some people will have very few side effects, others will have more. It is important to tell your doctor or chemotherapy nurse about any side effects you have.

Always talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements or herbal medicines with chemotherapy, as these might interact with your drugs.


CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating anal cancer section.



Chemotherapy drugs for anal cancer

The drugs most commonly used for anal cancer are fluorouracil (5FU) and mitomycin C. These links take you to information about the specific side effects of each of these drugs. Other drugs may also be used, such as

You usually have 5FU with mitomycin or cisplatin. You have chemotherapy into your bloodstream (intravenously) through a drip in your arm or through a central line.

Doctors are looking at using a tablet form of 5FU chemotherapy (capecitabine) instead of giving it intravenously. Taking tablets means that you can have most of your treatment at home. You can find out more about this research in the page about anal cancer research.


Side effects of anal cancer chemotherapy

Drugs affect people in different ways. Not everyone will have the same side effects with the same drug. Some people have very few side effects - others have more. It is not possible to tell exactly how you will react until you have had a particular drug.

Some side effects are quite common with many chemotherapy drugs. These include

Not all these side effects happen with every drug used for anal cancer. The links above take you to the main chemotherapy section, where there is more about chemotherapy side effects and how to deal with them.

You will have regular blood tests to make sure your blood cells aren’t too low. A low white blood cell count means you are more at risk of picking up infections, and you will need to have antibiotics. A low red blood cell count causes anaemia, with tiredness and breathlessness.

Remember - contact your doctor or chemotherapy nurse straight away if you think you have an infection. If you have a temperature of 38 degrees C or more, you should let the hospital know straight away as you may need antibiotics.

The side effects can be different when you have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together, so there is more information about the side effects of chemoradiation for anal cancer in this section.


Taking part in clinical trials

Your specialist may ask you to take part in a clinical trial. This is because it is important for doctors to find out which treatments work best. As the aim of treatment is to make you feel better, it is important that the chemotherapy itself does not make you too ill or that you do not have too many trips to the hospital. So trials also look at the side effects of treatment or at giving treatment in different ways, such as tablets.

You can search for trials for anal cancer on our clinical trials database.


Supplements, herbal treatments and chemotherapy

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know 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. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking or thinking of taking these supplements talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

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Updated: 12 February 2014