Chemotherapy for laryngeal cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. You might have chemotherapy with different treatments. They work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body.

When you might have chemotherapy

Chemotherapy with radiotherapy

You might have radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time for locally advanced or advanced laryngeal cancer. This is called chemoradiotherapy. 

You might have chemoradiotherapy to try and cure your cancer instead of having surgery to remove your larynx. But you might need to have surgery if there are still signs of your cancer after chemoradiotherapy. Or if your cancer comes back later.

If you have a large advanced laryngeal cancer that has not spread to another organ, you may have chemotherapy before radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. The treatment aims to shrink the cancer so you can then have chemoradiotherapy.

Chemotherapy before surgery

You might have chemotherapy if you have advanced laryngeal cancer that has not spread to another organ, but your surgeon can't remove it. The treatment aims to shrink the cancer so you can then have surgery. It is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy for advanced cancer

You sometimes have chemotherapy for advanced laryngeal cancer, or cancer that has come back after radiotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy can relieve symptoms and may slow the growth of your cancer. This is called palliative chemotherapy.

Types of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs for treating laryngeal cancer include: 

  • cisplatin
  • fluorouracil
  • capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • carboplatin (Paraplatin)
  • paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • methotrexate

Check what the name of your regimen is with your doctor or nurse, then take a look at our A to Z list of cancer drugs.

How you have chemotherapy

You have most of the chemotherapy drugs into your bloodstream (intravenously). Capecitabine is a tablet.

Into your bloodstream

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

You might have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

  • central line
  • PICC line
  • portacath

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.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take things in to do. For example, newspapers, books or electronic devices can all help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.

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

Some hospitals may give certain chemotherapy treatments to you at home. Your doctor or nurse can tell you more about this.

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
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • hair loss
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection. These include a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C, 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 a few days or so. Your treatment team can help to manage any side effects that you have.

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.

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