Chemoradiotherapy for anal cancer

Chemoradiotherapy is a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It’s sometimes known as chemoradiation and is the main treatment for anal cancer.

The chemotherapy drugs can make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy, so a combination of treatment is usually more effective than having radiotherapy or chemotherapy alone.

How chemoradiotherapy is given

Your doctor will explain the treatment plan that is best for you. A commonly used treatment plan involves 5–6 weeks of radiotherapy and two cycles of chemotherapy.

The most commonly used chemotherapy drugs used are fluorouracil (5FU) and mitomycin. Sometimes a drug called capecitabine, which is taken as a tablet, is used instead of fluorouracil.

On the first day of treatment, you will start the chemotherapy. You will also have your first radiotherapy treatment. You will have radiotherapy Monday–Friday, for 5–6 weeks. Four weeks after you started treatment, you will have a second cycle of chemotherapy.

If you are well enough, the radiotherapy is usually given to you as an outpatient. You may have to stay in hospital if you are having the chemotherapy as an infusion. But it’s usually possible for you to go home each day with a portable chemotherapy pump. If you are having chemotherapy tablets, you can go home each day after the radiotherapy.

Side effects of chemoradiotherapy

Giving chemotherapy and radiotherapy together can make the side effects of treatment worse. Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information about chemoradiotherapy and the possible side effects. You may get more tired and have more problems with diarrhoea and sore skin. Tell your doctor, specialist nurse or radiographer about your side effects so that they can help you find ways to cope with them.