Medication for Laryngeal Cancer

NYU Langone doctors may prescribe chemotherapy or targeted drugs to manage laryngeal cancer. Chemotherapy is a group of drugs that can destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Targeted drugs destroy cancer cells but may have different or more tolerable side effects than chemotherapy.

These drugs are often used to improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy, in which energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells. This approach, called chemoradiation, may be used in people with advanced laryngeal cancer if doctors think it is more likely than other treatments to preserve the vocal cords.

Sometimes advanced laryngeal cancers that have spread throughout the body may be managed with chemotherapy drugs or targeted medications alone.


Chemotherapy can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy, which is why these therapies may be used at the same time to treat laryngeal cancer.

When chemotherapy and radiation therapy are combined, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists collaborate to determine a personalized treatment schedule for you. Most chemotherapy drugs are given through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion on a treatment schedule called a cycle.

There are different ways to plan a chemoradiation cycle. For example, a chemotherapy drug may be given once a week throughout a six- or seven-week course of radiation therapy. Or, a drug might be given once at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of radiation therapy, for a total of three cycles. The chemotherapy drug cisplatin is often used to manage laryngeal cancer.


Chemotherapy alone may be used to destroy tumors that have spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.

In a cycle, drugs are usually given on one day or over a few days, followed by a one-to three-week period in which the body is allowed to rest and recover. Your medical oncologist can determine the duration and number of cycles that are best for you.

Targeted Drugs

NYU Langone doctors may prescribe a targeted drug, such as cetuximab, to manage laryngeal cancer that has spread outside the larynx. Targeted drugs may help to destroy cancer cells while avoiding healthy tissue, resulting in different or more tolerable side effects.

Some laryngeal cancers contain high levels of a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor. This protein signals cancer cells to grow and divide. Cetuximab, which is given by IV infusion about once a week, interferes with the function of this protein. As a result, tumors may shrink.

Cetuximab may be given alone or with chemotherapy in people with advanced laryngeal cancer.

Cetuximab may be also be used with radiation therapy in people with laryngeal cancer.

Managing the Side Effects of Medications

The most common side effects of chemotherapy for laryngeal cancer include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and sores in the mouth and throat.

Using cetuximab can lead to a skin rash that causes itching and discomfort. This rash usually fades after treatment is complete.

To reduce the side effects of these medications, your doctor may adjust the dose, prescribe another medication, or recommend support services.

Clinical Trials

To manage laryngeal cancer that has spread outside the larynx, NYU Langone doctors may prescribe immunotherapy as part of a clinical trial. Immunotherapy helps boost the body’s immune response to laryngeal cancer. It is given through an IV infusion on a schedule determined by your doctor. NYU Langone doctors can discuss whether a clinical trial is an option for you.