Prostate Cancer Overview

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Treating Prostate Cancer TOPICS

Chemotherapy (chemo) for prostate cancer

Chemo is the use of drugs to treat cancer. The drugs are often injected into a vein (given IV). Some can be swallowed in pill form. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body to reach and destroy the cancer cells.

Chemo is sometimes used if prostate cancer has spread outside of the prostate gland when hormone therapy isn't working. It is not a standard treatment for early prostate cancer, but some studies are looking to see if chemo could be helpful if given for a short time after surgery.

Like hormone therapy, chemo is unlikely to result in a cure. This treatment is not expected to destroy all the cancer cells, but it may slow the cancer's growth and reduce symptoms, resulting in a better quality of life.

Doctors give chemo in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Each cycle typically lasts for a few weeks.

There are many different chemo drugs. For prostate cancer, chemo drugs are typically used one at a time. The chemo drugs used most often for prostate cancer are docetaxel (Taxotere®) and cabazitaxel (Jevtana®).

Side effects of chemo

While chemo drugs kill cancer cells, they also damage some normal cells and this can lead to side effects. The side effects of chemo depend on the type of drugs, the amount taken, and the length of treatment. They could include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores

Because normal cells are also damaged, you may have low blood cell counts. This can cause:

  • Increased risk of infection (from a shortage of white blood cells)
  • Bleeding or bruising after minor cuts or injuries (from a shortage of blood platelets)
  • Tiredness (from low red blood cell counts)

Also, each drug may have its own unique side effects.

Most side effects go away once treatment is over. If you have problems with side effects, talk with your doctor or nurse about what can be done. There is help for many chemo side effects. For example, there are drugs to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. Other drugs can be given to boost blood cell counts.

Last Medical Review: 08/27/2013
Last Revised: 09/12/2014