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What to Know About Chemotherapy for Laryngeal Cancer

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Chemotherapy uses potent drugs to kill cancer cells. Your doctor may give you chemotherapy (often along with radiation therapy) for any of these reasons:

  • Before, or instead of, surgery to try to preserve your voice. In many cases, the tumor will shrink enough from chemotherapy that the surgeon will have to remove only part of your voice box.

  • After surgery to try to kill any remaining cancer cells that may not be visible.

  • To treat cancers that are too large or have spread too far to be treated with surgery alone.

For laryngeal cancer, doctors give these cancer-killing drugs by injection. They may use these drugs alone or in combinations with other therapies.

Most people take chemotherapy drugs in a cycle. That means you alternate between treatment periods and rest periods. Each treatment and rest period make one cycle, and you may need more than one cycle of treatment. You may get these drugs in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor’s office, or at home. You may need to stay in the hospital depending on the drugs, your treatment plan, and your overall health.

Potential side effects of chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of drugs you take. Cancer-killing drugs affect any cells that grow quickly. That includes cancer cells as well as healthy cells in your bone marrow (where new blood cells are made) and digestive system.

During treatment, your doctor will take small samples of your blood for testing. If your number of white blood cells is low during chemotherapy, you are at increased risk for infection. You should tell your doctor or nurse right away about any fever you have during chemotherapy because it is a possible sign of infection. A fever is defined as a body temperature higher than 100.5 degrees.

If your platelets, or blood cells that help with clotting, are low during chemotherapy, you may bruise or bleed more easily. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you experience this.

Your red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body. Their numbers may also drop during chemotherapy. This is called anemia. Occasionally, a platelet or blood transfusion may become necessary. These are possible symptoms of anemia:

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lack of energy

  • Heart palpitations

These are other possible side effects from chemotherapy:

  • Appetite loss

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Hair loss

  • Mouth sores

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

Some other side effects, such as nerve damage, can be caused by specific drugs.

You should tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects you have. Many medicines can help you deal with these side effects and perhaps prevent them from occurring. Most of these side effects go away once treatment ends. 


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