Chemotherapy for Prostate Cancer

Chemotherapy refers to any type of therapy that uses chemicals to kill or halt the growth of cancer cells. While chemotherapy is unlikely to cure prostate cancer, it may provide some benefits to patients. For example, it may be used:

  • To relieve symptoms associated with very advanced or metastatic disease, improving the patient’s quality of life

  • To improve the outcome of prostate cancer surgery if administered for a short time after the procedure

  • To work in conjunction with hormone therapy and improve the patient outcome

  • To prolong the life of a prostate cancer patient who no longer responds to hormone therapy

  • To treat men with advanced prostate cancer who carry the AR-V7 gene variant

Chemotherapy Treatment Schedule

Most people have chemotherapy as outpatients at hospitals or clinics. Chemotherapy is given in cycles that last a few weeks. You will be given the medicines with rest periods in between to allow your body to recover.

There are many different kinds of chemotherapy medicines. For prostate cancer, you will likely be given one medicine at a time. Some medicines are given by mouth as pills while others  are given through an IV.

Types of Chemotherapy Drugs

The most common chemotherapy drug for prostate cancer is docetaxel (Taxotere), which is usually given with prednisone, a steroid medicine. After starting docetaxel, many men experience the improvements in disease-related symptoms, including pain, fatigue and loss of energy.

If docetaxel does not work or stops working, cabazitaxel (Jevtana) may be used.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

All chemotherapy drugs work in slightly different ways, making it challenging to predict side effects for individual patients. Dosages, drug combinations and drug responses will vary from patient to patient.

The American Cancer Society lists the following as the most common side effects of chemotherapy:

  • Hair loss

  • Mouth sores

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Increased risk of infections (due to reduced white blood cells)

  • Easy bruising or bleeding (due to reduced blood platelets)

  • Fatigue (due to reduced red blood cells)

Guide to Managing Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Follow these simple rules to manage your side effects:

  • Pay attention. Be aware of all expected and unexpected reactions to the drugs.

  • Be proactive. Make a list of your medications. Talk with your health care providers about what signs to look for and when to call them.

  • Relax and get well. Chemotherapy drugs are powerful and can take a toll on the body. Focus on getting well by finding ways to alleviate stress. These may include listening to music, doing yoga or stretching exercises, taking walks or watching TV.

  • Keep a journal. Write down any physical and emotional changes you experience while taking the medications. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your health care team to manage your side effects.

  • Consult your doctor. Talk with your health care providers about any side effects you experience. There are several drugs designed to help ward off or treat different side effects.

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