Chemotherapy works by destroying or damaging cancer cells. For oropharyngeal cancers, it is usually given into a vein through a needle with a cannula (tube) attached.
|There are a number of different types of chemotherapy that may be used to treat oropharyngeal cancers:
||Sometimes chemotherapy is added to definitive radiation therapy (chemoradiation). It is usually used for advanced stage oropharyngeal cancers. This may be given once every 3 weeks or once a week throughout the duration of radiation therapy. Although chemotherapy makes the radiation more effective at destroying cancer cells, it may also lead to increased side effects for most patients.
||This is when chemotherapy is given after surgery, usually in combination with radiation therapy (called concurrent chemoradiation). This may be given once every 3 weeks or once a week throughout the duration of radiation therapy. Although chemotherapy makes the radiation more effective at destroying cancer cells, it may also lead to increased side effects for most patients.
||This is when chemotherapy is given before surgery or radiation therapy to help shrink large cancers making them easier to remove during surgery, or target with radiation therapy.
This is used when the cancer is incurable. The cancer may be too large or has spread too much to be removed by surgery. Palliative chemotherapy helps to slow the growth of cancer and reduce symptoms. It is important to remember that palliative chemotherapy is not as intense as other types and is much less likely to have significant side effects.
Before you start treatment, your medical oncologist will choose one or more chemotherapy medication that will be best to treat the type of cancer you have.
The particular chemotherapy medications used will depend on:
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the medication used and the the dose. The most common medications are cisplatin, carboplatin and 5-Fluoruracil (5-FU).
Each person responds to chemotherapy differently. Some people may experience a few side effects while others may not experience any at all. The following are common side effects of chemotherapy:
a feeling of wanting to vomit (nausea) or vomiting
more side effects of radiation, if you have chemotherapy at the same time as radiation
loss of feeling in the fingers and toes
kidney damage (caused by some medications)
ringing in the ears
higher risk of infection (if the chemotherapy reduces the number of white cells in the blood).
Most side effects are short lived and may go away once you finish chemotherapy. Some side effects can take months to years to improve or may be permanent.
Once your treatment ends, you will have regular follow-up appointments so that your doctor can check your recovery, make sure the cancer has not returned and monitor and treat any side effects that you may have.
Your doctor may recommend that you receive supportive care
to help during your recovery.