Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

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Chemotherapy for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

Chemotherapy uses anticancer, or 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 may be given alone. It may also be given during the same time period as radiation therapy (called chemoradiation).

You may have chemotherapy to:

  • destroy cancer cells in the body
  • shrink a tumour before other treatments such as surgery (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy or chemoradiation)
  • destroy cancer cells left behind after surgery and lower the risk that the cancer will recur (called adjuvant chemotherapy or chemoradiation)
  • relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced cancer (called palliative chemotherapy)
  • destroy cancer cells in the body if cancer recurs after the first treatment

Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy given by a needle in a vein, or intravenously. Systemic therapy means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream 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. Sometimes the healthcare team will give chemotherapy drugs into an artery close to the tumour. This helps to concentrate the drugs in this area, which may help them work better and cause fewer side effects.

Chemotherapy drugs used for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

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

  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
  • carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ)
  • 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU)
  • docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • bleomycin (Blenoxane)
  • cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Procytox)
  • vinblastine (Velbe)
  • methotrexate

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

  • etoposide (Vepesid, VP-16) and cisplatin
  • etoposide and carboplatin
  • cisplatin and 5-FU
  • carboplatin and 5-FU
  • cisplatin and paclitaxel
  • cisplatin and cetuximab (Erbitux), which is a targeted therapy drug

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 your side effects are not too severe).


Radiation therapy is sometimes given during the same time period as chemotherapy for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. This is called chemoradiation. Chemoradiation may be given if you have other health conditions that would make surgery unsafe or if you prefer not to have surgery.

Chemotherapy is usually given once a week while you have radiation therapy. Cisplatin (Platinol AQ) is the most common type of chemotherapy drug used in chemoradiation for this type of cancer. It is given with external beam radiation therapy. Cisplatin may act as a radiosensitizer, which means it helps the radiation to work better.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change quite 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. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about chemotherapy.


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