Chemoradiation is a combination of chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy. It’s usually not used for all types of cancers, but research shows it can be an effective treatment option for anal, cervical, bladder, and lung cancers.

Chemoradiation is a cancer treatment that combines two cancer treatments that can be effective: chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Chemoradiation isn’t an option for everyone or for all cancers. Receiving two intensive cancer treatments at once can be difficult to tolerate. But, the benefits of chemoradiation can be significant in some situations.

For some people with certain types of cancer, chemoradiation may help stop the progression of tumor growth. It may increase survival odds and even be curative in certain situations.

Chemoradiation may be used as a treatment for:

  • lung cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • anal cancer
  • bladder cancer

This article reviews the use of chemoradiation for each type of cancer, treatment duration, and side effects.

Researchers discovered the potential treatment benefits of chemoradiation for people with anal cancer five decades ago. Since then, even more, evidence has shown that chemoradiation may be a beneficial treatment for anal cancer.

Today, chemoradiation is one of the primary treatment options for anal cancer caused by anal squamous cell carcinoma. It can be an effective treatment for early-stage anal cancer and can help preserve surrounding organs.

A small 2012 study involving people with anal cancer who underwent chemoradiation showed that 86% experienced complete remission.

Chemoradiation is a common treatment for cervical cancer. Typically, it’s used when cervical cancer has spread into the area surrounding the cervix, but hasn’t spread to distant areas.

This type of treatment is used before surgery to remove or shrink the tumor. Research shows it may be a more effective treatment than chemotherapy followed by tumor removal surgery.

Chemoradiation is a common treatment for a type of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) when it reaches stage 3. Stage 3 NSCLC is lung cancer that has spread beyond the lungs but not to other body parts.

According to research, using chemotherapy and radiation together for NSCLC can have better outcomes than using these two therapies separately at different times.

Additionally, some researchers are optimistic about adding immunotherapy drugs to chemoradiation treatment, which may help improve outcomes for NSCLC.

Chemoradiation can help treat later stages of bladder cancer.

According to research, people with bladder cancer that’s invaded surrounding muscles, who receive chemoradiation, have higher survival rates than people who receive radiation alone.

Based on these studies, chemoradiation followed by bladder removal surgery is considered one of the best treatment options for bladder cancer that has spread beyond the original tumor site.

Chemoradiation combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy.

When you undergo chemoradiation treatment, you get chemotherapy treatment. These drugs, which are given intravenously or orally, circulate throughout your body to potentially destroy cancer cells. This part of the treatment is the same as just getting chemotherapy alone.

But, with chemoradiation, you also undergo radiation therapy at the same time that the chemo drugs are in your system, or shortly before or after, depending on the timing of the treatment cycles. Radiation therapy uses targeted, high-energy rays to destroy cancerous tumors and cells.

Although chemoradiation may be effective for some types of cancer, experts usually don’t recommend it for every cancer, and it may cause side effects that can be hard to tolerate.

The length of your chemoradiation treatment can vary depending on the type of cancer being treated and on the dose of chemoradiation you’re given.

The cycles for your radiation therapy and chemotherapy may not line up exactly. For instance, you might have radiation 5 days a week for 5 weeks.

During this time, there may be 2 weeks that you take a chemotherapy capsule or receive chemotherapy intravenously every day, a week when you don’t have chemotherapy at all, and then another 2 weeks when you receive chemotherapy again.

You’ll have tests after your first round of chemoradiation. This can help your doctor determine what the next step should be. This might include another cycle of chemoradiation, surgery, or a different treatment option.

Side effects can vary from person to person and can sometimes be difficult to tolerate. Side effects can also depend on the types of chemotherapy used and the location and intensity of the radiation. These can be cumulative and more intense when both types of treatment cause them.

It’s important to mention any side effects to your treatment team. Your doctor can adjust your dose to help ease the intensity of side effects, which may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • throat pain
  • mouth sores
  • trouble swallowing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness or pain in your chest
  • hair loss
  • fever
  • dry cough
  • infections
  • changes to the way your skin looks or feels
  • easy bruising or bleeding

Chemoradiation combines chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat cancer. It’s not an option for everyone or for all types of cancer. However, for anal, cervical, lung, and bladder cancer, it may be a beneficial treatment option that improves outcomes and survival.

Chemoradiation is typically given in cycles. The exact length of these cycles depends on the type of cancer you have and the chemoradiation dose.

Side effects can vary, but usually include nausea, loss of appetite, hair loss, fatigue, fever, and infections. Your doctor may be able to adjust your dose of chemoradiation to help ease your side effects.