What Happens During Chemotherapy for Oral Cancer

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Most people with cancer have chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. However, depending on the drugs you take and your general health, you may need to stay in the hospital during treatment. You may receive these drugs by an intravenous line (IV) or in a pill form, or in a combination of the two.

Chemotherapy for oral cancer can mean taking more than one drug. Combining drugs can help tumors shrink more, but can also mean more side effects. When more than one drug is prescribed, the drugs are usually given one after the other, and then given again as a treatment course every two to three weeks. You'll have a rest period between each treatment. Each period of treatment and rest is called a cycle. These cycles reduce damage to healthy cells. Rests in between treatment give cells a chance to recover. Your doctor will decide if you need to get chemotherapy daily, weekly, every few weeks, or monthly. Your treatment will usually continue for two to six months, depending on its effectiveness.

Here are some common chemotherapy drugs for oral cancer:

  • Platinol (cisplatin)

  • 5-FU or Adrucil (fluorouracil)

  • Paraplatin (carboplatin)

  • Taxol (paclitaxel)

  • Taxotere (docetaxel)

  • Amethopterin, Mextrate, or Folex (methotrexate)

  • Ifos (ifosfamide)

  • Blenoxane (bleomycin)  

Chemotherapy may be combined with radiation therapy (called chemoradiotherapy) in certain circumstances. The combination may be used prior to surgery to help shrink the tumor, which can make it easier to remove. Or chemoradiotherapy may be used in patients whose cancer is too advanced for surgery. However, the combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can result in severe side effects that may be too much for some people to tolerate.

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