Chemotherapy for laryngeal cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. These drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide but they also affect normal cells. The drugs travel around the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body.

Chemotherapy can be used to treat laryngeal cancer:

  • at the same time as radiotherapy (chemoradiation)
  • before radiotherapy to shrink larger tumours and make radiotherapy more effective
  • to help control the cancer and relieve symptoms (palliative chemotherapy).

The chemotherapy drugs most commonly used to treat laryngeal cancer are:

Other drugs that may be used include:

How chemotherapy is given

A nurse will give you chemotherapy as an injection or as a drip (infusion) directly into a vein (intravenously). It can be given through a cannula (small tube) into the back of your hand or into your arm. The cannula is taken out straight after each treatment session has finished.

It can also be given through a tube called a central line. This is a fine tube which goes into a vein in your chest. Or you may have a PICC line. This is a fine tube which goes into a vein in your arm and is threaded up into a vein in your upper chest. These lines can be put in as a day patient and stay in until you have finished all your treatment sessions.

If you have a central or PICC line, you may have one of the chemotherapy drugs through a small pump that you can carry in a bag and take home with you. Your nurse will show you how to take care of the pump and how to look after your line when you are at home.

While having chemotherapy, you may need to stay in hospital for a few days or you may be treated as a day patient. Chemotherapy is usually given as several sessions of treatment. Your doctors will explain how often you will have treatment.


Certain chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin, may make radiotherapy work better. Chemotherapy given at the same time as radiotherapy is called chemoradiation. It can be given instead of surgery or after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

However, giving the two treatments at the same time also increases the immediate side effects and risk of late effects.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

How do chemotherapy drugs work?

Chemotherapy drugs work by stopping cancer cells reproducing. The drugs can also affect healthy cells, causing side effects.

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells in the body. Your doctor will explain if chemotherapy is advised for you.