Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with anti-cancer drugs that can be swallowed in pill form or injected into a vein. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach most parts of the body.
Most people with anal cancer will need chemo, but chemo may be recommended in different situations:
In most cases, 2 or more drugs are used at the same time to shrink the cancer.
In these treatments, the 5-FU is given into a vein 24 hours a day for 4 or 5 days. It's put in a small pump that you can take home with you. The other drugs are given more quickly on certain other days in the treatment cycle. Sometimes, the oral drug capecitabine might be given in place of 5-FU. Radiation is given 5 days a week for at least 5 weeks. Talk to your treatment team about your treatment plan and how and where you will get chemo.
For advanced anal cancer or anal cancer that has already been treated with 5-FU and mitomycin, other options for chemotherapy include:
Chemo drugs can cause side effects. These depend on the type and dose of drugs given and how long they are taken. Some common side effects include:
Chemo can also damage the blood-producing cells of the bone marrow, which can result in:
Along with the risks above, some chemo drugs can cause other, less common side effects.
For instance, cisplatin, paclitaxel, oxaliplatin, or docetaxel might cause nerve damage (called peripheral neuropathy). This can lead to numbness, tingling, sensitivity to cold, or pain in the hands and feet.
Most side effects get better over time once treatment stops, but some can last a long time or even be permanent. If you're going to get chemo, be sure to discuss the drugs that will be used and their possible side effects.
Tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects as soon as you notice them so they can be treated promptly. For example, drugs can be used to help control nausea and vomiting. In some cases, changing the treatment dosage or delaying or stopping treatment may keep the side effects from getting worse.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Last Revised: November 13, 2017