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Chemotherapy for Prostate Cancer

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancerous cells. Specific treatment for prostate cancer will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Stage of the cancer

  • Your tolerance for specific medications and procedures

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Chemotherapy is rarely the primary therapy for men with prostate cancer, but it may be used when prostate cancer has spread outside of the prostate gland, especially if hormone therapy is no longer effective.

Chemotherapy is not a standard treatment for early prostate cancer. And although it may slow tumor growth and reduce pain in more advanced cancers, it does not cure them.

Docetaxel (Taxotere), along with the steroid drug prednisone, is usually the first chemotherapy drug given. A second drug, cabazitaxel (Jevtana), may be used (along with prednisone) if docetaxel is not effective. Both of these drugs have been shown to improve survival times by an average of several months. Other chemotherapy drugs (or other treatments) may also be tried if these no longer work.

How is chemotherapy administered?

Your oncologist will determine how long and how often chemotherapy treatments are necessary, if at all. Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously (in the vein) or by pill. Chemotherapy treatments are often given in cycles: a treatment period, followed by a recovery period, followed by another treatment period.

Chemotherapy may be given in a variety of settings including your home, a hospital outpatient facility, a doctor's office or clinic, or in a hospital.

What are the most common side effects of chemotherapy?

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his or her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any or all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Most side effects of chemotherapy disappear once treatment is completed. Common side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drug used, the dosage, and the length of treatment, and may include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Hair loss

  • Anemia

  • Reduced ability of blood to clot

  • Mouth sores

  • Increased likelihood of infection

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Diarrhea

In addition, each chemotherapy medication may have its own specific side effects.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/21/2012
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