Laryngeal Cancer: Chemotherapy
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy, or chemo, uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines
attack and kill cells that grow quickly, like cancer cells. Some normal cells also
grow quickly. Because of this, chemo can also harm those cells. This can cause side
When might chemotherapy be used for laryngeal cancer?
Chemo might be used for laryngeal cancer:
Before surgery to shrink the tumor so that only part of your voice box needs to be
removed and you will still be able to talk.
Along with radiation to treat advanced cancers (that are big or have spread). This
is called chemoradiation. It's the most common treatment for laryngeal cancer. It may help keep you from needing
surgery to remove your larynx and can preserve your voice.
Along with radiation after surgery to try to kill any remaining cancer cells and help
lower the chance that the cancer will come back later.
To treat cancers that are too large or have spread too far to be treated with surgery
How is chemotherapy given for laryngeal cancer?
Chemo for laryngeal cancer is given as a liquid right into your blood through a vein.
Chemo may be used alone or along with other cancer treatments.
Chemo may be done as an outpatient visit to a hospital. This means you go home the
same day. Or, it may be done at your healthcare provider’s office or an infusion center.
In some cases, you may stay in the hospital during treatment. This depends on the
medicines, your treatment plan, and your overall health.
Most people get chemo in cycles. That means you get chemo for a set amount of time,
and then you have a rest period. Each period of treatment and rest is one cycle. You
may have several cycles. Having treatment in cycles helps by:
Killing more cancer cells. The medicine can kill more cancer cells over time because
cells aren't all dividing at the same time. Cycles allow the medicine to fight more
Giving your body a rest. Treatment is hard on other cells in your body that divide
quickly. This includes cells in the lining of your mouth and stomach. This causes
side effects, like mouth sores and nausea. Between cycles, your body can get rest
and recover from the chemo.
Giving your mind a rest. Getting chemo can be stressful. Taking breaks between cycles
can let you get an emotional break between treatments.
What are some of the medicines commonly used to treat laryngeal cancer?
These are some of the common chemotherapy medicines used to treat laryngeal cancer.
In most cases, more than one medicine is used. This is called combination therapy.
5-fluorouracil, or 5-FU
What are common side effects of chemotherapy?
Side effects are common with chemo. They tend to be worse with chemoradiation therapy.
But it’s important to know that they can often be controlled and even prevented.
Side effects depend on the type of medicines you get and the doses used. Chemo affects
any cells that grow quickly. That includes cancer cells as well as healthy cells in
your bone marrow (where new blood cells are made), digestive system, and your hair
During treatment, you will have many blood tests done. If your number of white blood
cells drops during chemo, you're at a greater risk for infection. You should tell
your healthcare provider right away about any fever you have during chemo. A fever
higher than 100.4°F (38°C) is a possible sign of infection.
If your platelets, the blood cells that help with clotting, are low, you may bruise
or bleed more easily. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you notice this.
Your red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all other parts of your body.
The number of these cells in your blood may also drop during chemo. This is called
anemia. If they go too low, a blood transfusion may be needed.
These are some symptoms of anemia:
These are other possible side effects from chemo:
Skin and nail changes
Some chemo medicines cause certain other side effects. For instance, some of the medicines
commonly used for laryngeal cancer cause nerve damage, called peripheral neuropathy.
This can lead to numbness, tingling, and pain in your hands and feet. Some chemo medicines
used for laryngeal cancer can also cause ear problems, such as ringing ears or hearing
Tell your healthcare team about any side effects you have right away. Make sure to
ask what kind of problems you should watch for. There are often things that can be
done to help you deal with side effects and keep them from getting worse. There may
be things you can do to try to prevent side effects, too. Most side effects go away
over time after treatment ends.
It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking,
and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your
questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to
work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.
Working with your healthcare provider
It's important to know which medicines you're taking. Write down the names of your
medicines. Ask your healthcare team how they work, what they're for, and what side
effects they might cause.
Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs to look for and when to call
them. For instance, chemo can make you more likely to get infections. Make sure you
know what number to call with problems or questions. Is there a different number for
evenings, holidays, and weekends?