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About nasopharyngeal cancer chemotherapy

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page is about chemotherapy for cancers of the nasopharynx. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

About nasopharyngeal cancer chemotherapy

Chemotherapy means treatment using anti cancer or cytotoxic drugs.

Chemoradiation

If your nasopharyngeal cancer has grown into lymph nodes or tissues around your nasopharynx, you may have chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time. This is called chemoradiation or synchronous therapy. Chemoradiation is quite a tough treatment to get through. You will have tests to see if you’re fit enough to cope with the side effects.

Chemotherapy alone

People with stage 3 and stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer may be helped by extra chemotherapy as well as chemoradiation. This can help to control the disease and reduce the risk of cancer coming back. You may have the extra chemotherapy before or after your chemoradiation.

Having chemotherapy over a longer period of time does cause added side effects and may only be suitable for some patients. There are still some questions to be answered about this extra chemotherapy, such as the best drugs to use, the precise dose and the timing of treatments.

If the cancer has spread to another part of your body or has come back after treatment, you may have chemotherapy on its own. This may shrink the cancer and help to control any symptoms the cancer is causing.
 

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

 

 

What chemotherapy is

Chemotherapy means treatment using anti cancer or cytotoxic drugs. These drugs disrupt the growth of cancer cells and destroy them. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body.

 

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy together (chemoradiation)

If your nasopharyngeal cancer has grown into lymph nodes or tissues around your nasopharynx, you may have chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time. You might hear your doctor call this chemoradiation or synchronous therapy.

Some chemotherapy drugs make cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy, so doctors use them together. Chemoradiation is quite a tough treatment to get through. You will have some tests to see if you’re fit enough to cope with the side effects. If chemoradiation is not suitable for you, you have radiotherapy alone to treat your cancer.

There is information about chemoradiation in this section.

 

Chemotherapy on its own

There is some research to suggest that people with stage 3 and stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer may be helped by extra chemotherapy as well as chemoradiation. This can help to control the disease and reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. You may have the extra chemotherapy before or after your chemoradiation. Doctors call it adjuvant chemotherapy if you have it after radiotherapy, or neo adjuvant if you have it before.

Having chemotherapy over a longer period of time does cause added side effects and may only be suitable for some patients. There are still some questions to be answered about this extra chemotherapy, such as the best drugs to use, the precise dose and the timing of treatments. We also need to know more about how useful extra chemotherapy is in improving long term survival.

If the cancer has spread to another part of your body or has come back after treatment, you may have chemotherapy alone. This may shrink the cancer and help to control any symptoms the cancer is causing.

 

Dietary or herbal supplements 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.

 

General information about chemotherapy

For more information about chemotherapy, look at our main chemotherapy section. It explains the treatment in more detail, including

If you would like more information about chemotherapy, ask your chemotherapy nurse or contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

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Updated: 26 August 2014