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Having chemotherapy treatment for Nasal and paranasal sinus cancer

You may have a combination of chemotherapy drugs as cycles of treatment into your bloodstream.

Types of chemotherapy

It is most common to have 2 or more chemotherapy drugs together. You might hear this called combination chemotherapy. Using 2 or more drugs together often works better than using one drug. The most common drugs are:

  • Cisplatin
  • Fluorouracil (5-FU)

Other chemotherapy drugs you might have include:

  • Carboplatin
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol)

When you have chemotherapy

You usually have the chemotherapy drugs every 3 or 4 weeks. Each 3 or 4 week period is known as one cycle of treatment. You will probably have between 3 and 4 cycles to begin with.

If your treatment is working and you aren't having too many side effects you will probably go on to have up to 6 cycles. So the complete chemotherapy course can take 4 to 6 months. Your doctor will decide the exact number of treatments you have.

How you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream (intravenously).

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

If you don't have a central line you might have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula). The cannula goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

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 newspapers, books or electronic devices to 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.

Before you start chemotherapy

COVID swab test

Due to coronavirus, you need to have a test to check for coronavirus before you have treatment. The test is called a COVID swab test.

To have the test your nurse takes a sample from the inside of your nose and the back of your throat. They use a long cotton bud to take the sample. Or the sample might be saliva or other fluid. Depending on which test your hospital uses, it can take from 90 minutes to a few days to get a result.

At most hospitals, you have a COVID swab test 48 to 72 hours (up to 3 days) before going for your treatment in the chemotherapy unit.

This means you might have the swab test on the same day that you visit the hospital for blood tests and your doctor’s clinic appointment. If you have treatment weekly or more often, some hospitals will ask you to have the swab test on the day of treatment.

Check with your team about when you’ll have the test as there are some differences between hospitals.

Blood tests

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, including 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.

When you go home

Chemotherapy for nasal and paranasal sinus 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.