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When you have advanced laryngeal cancer, your treatment options generally include some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. This is an aggressive treatment approach. When radiation and chemotherapy are combined, they may be called chemoradiation or concurrent chemoradiotherapy (CRT). The goal of this treatment is to control the cancer in its location, so that it doesn't spread to other parts of your body and so that it is weakened and destroyed. At the same time, doctors try to save your larynx, or voice box, from permanent damage.
You might be concerned about the effects of this treatment on your voice and speech. Chances are that laryngeal cancer has already changed the way you speak and sound. Studies show that CRT can actually improve the changes cancer has caused, although you might not sound exactly the same as before your cancer.
The elements of your treatment might include:
Surgery. Surgery can remove some or all of the cancer cells and help your doctors get a better understanding of where the cancer is located. Removing part of a tumor through surgery can also mean removing part of your larynx or surrounding tissues. Talk with your surgeon to make sure you understand the risks of this procedure. Many medical teams try to save as much of the larynx as they can. Surgery might take place before chemoradiation or after the combination treatments are finished, although it may not be an option for many people with laryngeal cancer.
Chemotherapy. This treatment calls for medications that are designed to kill cancer cells inside your body. You might take these drugs orally (by mouth) or with an IV directly into your veins. These medications are strong and may have side effects, such as making you feel tired and weak or causing you to lose your hair or appetite. Make sure you understand all possible side effects and how you can protect your quality of life while you are going through treatment.
Radiation. Most people think that radiation is delivered like a ray beamed by a machine outside of your body. Often this is true, but some specialists use irradiated materials that are inserted or injected close to the tumor to deliver the radiation. Make sure that you know how any radiation included in your treatment plan will be delivered. Radiation combined with chemotherapy can be an effective way to treat a cancerous tumor. Radiation therapy works best if you have stopped smoking before you start treatment.
Make sure you understand the details of how you will be treated. With CRT, you will need a series of treatments.
Specific side effects will depend on what combination of treatments your team suggests. They might include:
Changes in taste or smell
Changes in your ability to speak
Loss of appetite
Other treatments and steps will help improve most side effects. Make sure your doctors know if you are suffering.
How well you will do with combination therapy depends on your age, overall health, and how advanced your cancer is. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend participating in a clinical trial that helps test new approaches in chemoradiation therapy against proven strategies. This type of research is also described as a clinical study.
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