Chemotherapy for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

Chemotherapy uses anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.

Chemotherapy is often combined with radiation therapy to treat nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. This is called chemoradiation. The 2 treatments are given during the same time period.

Chemotherapy is given for different reasons. You may have chemotherapy or chemoradiation to:

  • destroy cancer cells in the body
  • shrink a tumour before other treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
  • destroy cancer cells left behind after surgery and reduce the risk that the cancer will come back (recur) (called adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer (called palliative chemotherapy)
  • destroy cancer cells in the body if cancer recurs after the first treatment

Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the blood to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinus.

Chemotherapy drugs used for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are:

  • cisplatin (most common drug used)
  • carboplatin
  • fluorouracil (Adrucil)
  • docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • paclitaxel

The most common chemotherapy drug combinations used to treat nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are:

  • cisplatin and fluorouracil
  • cisplatin and docetaxel
  • cisplatin and paclitaxel
  • carboplatin and fluorouracil
  • carboplatin and paclitaxel

Chemotherapy for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers usually takes about 6 months to complete. The drugs are usually given once every 3 or 4 weeks. Each 3- or 4-week period of time is called a cycle. You will likely have 3 or 4 cycles of chemotherapy, and then your healthcare team will do some tests to see if the treatment is working. If it is working, you may have up to 6 cycles of treatment as long as the side effects are not too severe.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, but everyone's experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have only a few side effects.

Chemotherapy may cause side effects because it can damage healthy cells as it kills cancer cells. If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after chemotherapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after chemotherapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.

Side effects of chemotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug, the dose, how it's given (on its own or combined with radiation therapy) and your overall health. Some common side effects of chemotherapy drugs used for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are:

Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from chemotherapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Questions to ask about chemotherapy

Find out more about chemotherapy and side effects of chemotherapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about chemotherapy.

Expert review and references