Chemotherapy for prostate cancer

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Chemotherapy uses anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.

Chemotherapy is given to help you live longer and try to improve your quality of life. You may have chemotherapy:

  • along with hormone therapy to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (called metastatic castration-sensitive prostate cancer) when you are first diagnosed
  • to treat prostate cancer that stops responding to hormone therapy (called castration-resistant prostate cancer)
  • to relieve pain or control the symptoms of metastatic prostate cancer (called palliative care)

Chemotherapy is given into a vein (called an infusion) and is a form of systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the prostate.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles. Each period of treatment is followed by a rest period to give your body time to recover. A cycle is often 3 weeks long, with 1 infusion every 3 weeks.

Chemotherapy drugs used for prostate cancer

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat prostate cancer are:

  • docetaxel
  • mitoxantrone
  • cabazitaxel (Jevtana)

Your hormone injection must be continued while you receive your chemotherapy.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for prostate cancer, but everyone's experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.

Chemotherapy may cause side effects because it can damage healthy cells as it kills cancer cells. If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after chemotherapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after chemotherapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.

Side effects of chemotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug, the dose, how it's given and your overall health. Some common side effects of chemotherapy drugs used for prostate cancer are:

Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from chemotherapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Questions to ask about chemotherapy

Find out more about chemotherapy and side effects of chemotherapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about chemotherapy.

Expert review and references

  • Peter Chung, MBChB, FRCPC
  • Krista Noonan, MD, FRCPC
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