Chemotherapy for Salivary Gland Cancer

Doctors at NYU Langone may use chemotherapy, in which a group of drugs is used to destroy cancer cells throughout the body, in combination with radiation therapy to manage salivary gland cancer. This approach, called chemoradiation, may be used after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells, especially if the salivary gland cancer was growing rapidly.

If salivary gland cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, doctors may prescribe chemotherapy alone.


Chemotherapy can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy, which is why both approaches may be used at the same time to manage salivary gland cancer. Doctors may use chemoradiation if salivary gland cancer is aggressive or if it has spread to important nerves or the lymph nodes in the neck.

Most chemotherapy drugs are given through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion on a treatment schedule called a cycle. Cisplatin, carboplatin, and doxorubicin are a few of the drugs used to manage salivary gland cancer. When chemotherapy and radiation therapy are combined, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists work together to determine a personalized treatment schedule for you.

A typical chemoradiation schedule involves giving a chemotherapy drug once a week throughout the six to seven weeks of radiation therapy.


If salivary gland cancer has spread throughout the body, doctors may prescribe chemotherapy alone. This approach may help shrink the cancer and control pain, but it does not completely destroy the tumors.

If you are receiving chemotherapy alone, treatment may occur once a week or once every three weeks, so you can rest and recover between cycles. You may receive several cycles of chemotherapy, helping relieve symptoms. The duration and number of cycles may vary from person to person.

Managing the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy alone may cause a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and sores in the mouth and throat. Chemoradiation may cause difficulty swallowing and tightening of the muscles in the face, jaw, and neck.

To ease discomfort, doctors can adjust treatment doses, prescribe additional medications, or refer you to support services.

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