How is chemotherapy used to treat throat cancer?
Chemotherapy (sometimes abbreviated to ‘chemo’) is the process of using drugs to treat cancer, by injecting them into a vein (IV drip) or with oral administration. Chemotherapy drugs enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body using the vascular system. This nature of chemotherapy makes it useful for treating the different stages of throat cancer.
Chemotherapy drugs work by identifying cells within the body that are dividing rapidly, and by killing these cells. For this reason, patients who receive chemotherapy may experience side effects such as anaemia, decreased WBC count, and hair loss as these body parts also contain rapidly dividing healthy cells/ tissues.
Chemotherapy is not generally preferred as a primary treatment modality in throat cancer, except in cases of metastatic disease where cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It is most commonly used along with radiation. This approach is known as concurrent chemotherapy. Recent studies have revealed that neoadjuvant chemotherapy can also be used in patients with throat cancer. Chemotherapy can be used to treat throat cancer in the following ways.
As chemoradiation (in combination with radiation)
This is a common treatment for hypopharyngeal cancers. This type of chemoradiation can be given with radical intent (or after surgery, which is called adjuvant chemo-radiation).
As neoadjuvant treatment/induction chemotherapy (before surgical removal of a tumour)
This is done in order to shrink the size of a tumour and to make the surgery easier. If a tumour shrinks during neoadjuvant chemotherapy, then it becomes easier to plan the treatment ahead. For example, in patients who exhibit a good response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy, chemo-radiation and organ-preservatory surgeries may be the best options ahead.
As palliative/symptom-relief treatment
In extremely advanced cases of throat cancer, or in cases of inoperable tumours, or metastatic throat cancer, systemic chemotherapy may be used to arrest the growth of a tumour and to control some of cancer’s more painful symptoms, such as difficulty in swallowing or breathing.