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 Having chemotherapy treatment

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy neuroendocrine tumour (NET) cells. The drugs circulate throughout your body in the bloodstream. 

Chemotherapy isn’t usually the first choice of treatment for NETs. You might have it for a NET that:

  • is fast growing (poorly differentiated)
  • has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic)

Chemotherapy seems to work better for some types of NETs than others. Doctors continue to look into this and the best combinations of chemotherapy drugs. Your doctor might offer you chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial. 

You can find out more about research and clinical trials in the sections about the different types of NETs.

Types of chemotherapy

There are a number of different chemotherapy drugs for NETs. You usually have a combination of 2 or 3 drugs.

The type of chemotherapy drugs you have depends on different things such as where the tumour started and how fast it’s growing. The most common types of chemotherapy drugs for NETs are:

  • streptozocin and fluorouracil
  • streptozocin and doxorubicin
  • temozolomide
  • capecitabine
  • etoposide and cisplatin or carboplatin

How you have chemotherapy

You usually have chemotherapy as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously). Some drugs come as tablets or capsules that you swallow whole.

Into your bloodstream

You have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

Or you might have treatment through a long line: a central line, a PICC line or a portacath. These are long plastic tubes that give the drug into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.

Taking your tablets or capsules

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take newspapers, books or electronic devices to help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • a lower resistance to infections
  • bleeding and bruising easily
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • hair loss
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any signs of infection such as a temperature higher than 37.5C or generally feeling unwell. Infections can make you very unwell very quickly.

Side effects depend on:

  • which drugs you have
  • how much of each drug you have
  • how you react

Tell your treatment team about any side effects that you have.

Coping

Treatment for neuroendocrine tumours can be difficult to cope with for some people. Your nurse will give you phone numbers to call if you have any problems at home. 

If you have any questions about treatment, you can talk to Cancer Research UK’s information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
22 May 2019
  • Guidelines for the management of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (including carcinoid) tumours (NETs) 
    J Ramage and others 
    Gut, 2012. Vol 61, Pages 6-32

  • Neuroendocrine gastro-entero-pancreatic tumors: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    K Oberg and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2012. Vol 23, Issue 7, Pages 124-130

  • Electronic Medicine Compendium (eMC)
    Accessed September 2018

  • Pulmonary neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumours: European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society expert consensus and recommendations for best practice for typical and atypical pulmonary carcinoids
    ME Caplin and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2015. Vol 26, Issue 8, Pages 1604-1620

  • Metastatic well-differentiated gastrointestinal neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumors: Systemic therapy options to control tumor growth and symptoms of hormone hypersecretion
    JA Chan and M Kulke
    UpToDate, Accessed September 2018

  • High-grade gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms
    H Sorbye and JR Strosberg
    UpToDate, Accessed September 2018

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