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Laryngeal cancer drugs and side effects

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about the chemotherapy drugs used for laryngeal cancer, and their side effects. You can go to sections about        

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Laryngeal cancer drugs and side effects

It is most common to have 2 or more chemotherapy drugs together to treat cancer. You have most of these drugs through a drip (intravenous infusion) into your arm.

You usually have chemotherapy as a course of 6 treatments. Each treatment is followed by a rest period of about 3 or 4 weeks. Each complete treatment and rest period is called a cycle. The complete course can take 6 months or more.

Side effects

Not everyone has the same side effects with the same drug. Some people have very few side effects. These side effects are common with many chemotherapy drugs

  • A fall in the number of blood cells, leaving you prone to infections
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • A sore mouth and mouth ulcers
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Numbness and tingling in fingers and toes
  • Feeling tired and run down

Chemoradiation means having courses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time. The side effects are the same as for each individual treatment. But some effects are likely to be more severe.

 

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

 

The drugs you may have

It is most common to have 2 or more chemotherapy drugs together to treat cancer. You may hear this called combination chemotherapy. For cancer of the larynx you may have radiotherapy and a chemotherapy drug called cisplatin.

Other drugs that may also be used include

The links above take you to pages about these drugs and their specific side effects.

You have most of these drugs through a drip (intravenous infusion) into your arm. The exception is capecitabine, which is similar to 5FU but taken as a tablet.

You usually have chemotherapy as a course of 3 to 6 treatments. Each treatment is followed by a rest period of about 3 or 4 weeks. Each complete treatment and rest period is called a cycle of chemotherapy. The complete course can take 6 months or more. The exact timing varies, depending on the drugs you are having. Your own doctor will decide the exact number of treatments you need.

 

Chemoradiation

If you are having chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time (known as synchronous treatment or chemoradiation), you may have any of these drugs

Cisplatin and 5FU together is the drug combination that is used most often in chemoradiation for cancer of the larynx. It may be given with taxol or taxotere. You may have some of these treatments as part of a clinical trial. There is information about the side effects of chemoradiation below.

 

Side effects of chemotherapy

Drugs affect people in different ways. Not all patients have the same side effects with the same drug. Some people have very few side effects at all. It is not possible to tell how you will react until you have had a particular drug. These side effects are common with many chemotherapy drugs

You may have some of these effects. All the drugs have different side effects. Click on the links above for information about how to deal with them.

There is more about general side effects of chemotherapy in the main chemotherapy section. Ask your doctor or nurse which side effects are most common with the chemotherapy drugs you will be having.

You will have regular blood tests to make sure you are not short of blood cells. If you are low on red blood cells, you may have a blood transfusion

If you are low on white blood cells, you are more at risk of picking up infections. So, you may have antibiotics to try to prevent infection. You will always have blood tests just before you have chemotherapy. If your white blood cell count is too low, your doctor may delay your next chemotherapy treatment until your white cells have recovered.

Remember to 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 higher, you should let the hospital know straight away.

 

Feeling tired and run down

Some people are able to carry on almost as normal when they are having chemotherapy. But most people get very tired. The further through your course of chemotherapy treatment you are, the more likely you are to feel tired and run down. If this is happening to you, try to take things slowly. If you feel like having a lie down or putting your feet up, then you probably need to do just that. Don't struggle on with trying to cope with everything you did before you were ill. You will probably get over the treatment more quickly in the long run if you rest when you need to.

Remember all these side effects will begin to get better as soon as the treatment is over. Holding on to that thought may make them easier to cope with at the time.

 

Particular side effects of chemoradiation

Concurrent or synchronous chemoradiation means having a course of radiotherapy at the same time as you are having a course of chemotherapy. The side effects of this treatment are the same as for each individual treatment. But some effects are likely to be more severe.

In particular, you are likely to get a very sore mouth and throat. For some people, the mouth is so sore that they can't swallow. If this happens to you, you are likely to need a feeding tube so you can get enough liquid and calories inside you. You will also have painkillers. Morphine is often used to treat mouth soreness in this situation, because the dose can be easily adjusted to your needs.

When your mouth and throat are very sore, you have to be particularly careful about infection. Do try to keep your mouth clean and follow your mouth care advice. At the first sign of infection (particularly a high temperature or chills, a sore chest or a cough) do contact the hospital. You will probably be asked to go in to the hospital for antibiotics through a drip.

If you smoke your doctor will advise you to stop. Smoking during treatment can make the above side effects much worse. 

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Updated: 21 July 2015