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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 go throughout the body to destroy the cancer cells.

Chemo is sometimes used if prostate cancer has spread outside the prostate gland and hormone therapy isn’t working. Chemo 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.

Chemo is not expected to destroy all the cancer cells, but it may slow the cancer’s growth and reduce symptoms.

Chemo is given 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 are docetaxel (Taxotere®) and cabazitaxel (Jevtana®).

Side effects of chemo

While chemo drugs kill cancer cells, they also damage some normal cells, which can lead to side effects. The side effects of chemo depend on the type of drugs, the doses, 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, drugs can prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.

For more on chemotherapy for prostate cancer, see Prostate Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 01/09/2015
Last Revised: 02/09/2016