Chemoradiation is often the main treatment for anal cancer. This is a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Why chemoradiation is given

Chemotherapy drugs can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy. Combining both treatments is often more effective than having either treatment on its own.

Chemoradiation is more effective at curing anal cancer than surgery. It also means you avoid having a stoma.

How chemoradiation is given

You usually have chemoradiation as an outpatient.

A common treatment plan involves 4 to 6 weeks of radiotherapy and two cycles of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy drugs usually given are fluorouracil (5FU) and mitomycin.

In the first week of treatment, you start chemotherapy and have your first radiotherapy treatment. You have radiotherapy Monday to Friday, for 4 to 6 weeks. Four weeks after you started treatment, you have a second cycle of chemotherapy.

You usually have the chemotherapy into a vein (intravenously). Some people have the fluorouracil through a portable chemotherapy pump, which they take home. Sometimes people have a drug called capecitabine, which is taken as a tablet, instead of fluorouracil.

Side effects of chemoradiation

We have more information about the side effects of radiotherapy and the side effects of chemotherapy.

Giving chemotherapy and radiotherapy together can make the side effects of treatment worse. Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information about chemoradiation and the possible side effects. The following side effects of chemoradiation may be worse than for either radiotherapy or chemotherapy alone:

Tell your doctor, specialist nurse or radiographer about your side effects. They can help you find ways to cope with them.

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