Chemotherapy refers to the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer. These drugs may be administered intravenously or orally. Chemotherapy works by causing the death of rapidly dividing cells. Since cancer cells tend to divide more quickly than normal cells, this means that the drugs target the cancer. However, these drugs can also kill normal cells, and chemotherapy cannot target a specific area of the body. If you have advanced prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about the possibility of using chemotherapy for prostate cancer as a treatment option. Chemotherapy can help men with prostate cancer live longer. It may also reduce pain, particularly in men with cancer that has spread to the bones.
Who is a candidate for chemotherapy?
In contrast to many other types of cancers, chemotherapy for prostate cancer is typically not a first treatment option. It may be used in men with advanced prostate cancer that has spread beyond the prostate. It is also typically recommended when hormone therapy has ceased to be effective.
Preparing for chemotherapy
The best way to be prepared for chemotherapy is to become an informed patient. Talk to your doctor about the specific chemotherapy drug you are to take. Ask about the treatment schedule, the method of delivery (i.e. orally or intravenously), and the potential side effects and risks.
It’s also important to share your full medical history with your doctor, including other medical conditions and any drugs or supplements you take. Some medications may interfere with the chemotherapy drug, so you may need to discontinue a medication for a period of time.
Chemotherapy drugs are administered in cycles. A cycle will usually last for a few weeks. You will then have a drug-free period to allow your body to recover. Your doctor may recommend intravenous chemotherapy or you might take the drugs by mouth. Chemotherapy may be administered at the hospital, or sometimes at your home. Plan to eat a light meal beforehand in case you experience nausea. Arrange to have someone drive you to and from your treatment in case you do not feel well enough to drive afterward.
One of the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs for prostate cancer is mitoxantrone. This drug is given once every three weeks. Mitoxantrone is generally very well-tolerated. Another commonly used drug is docetaxel, which has been shown to improve quality of life and pain management. It has also been shown to improve survival, particularly when combined with prednisone, a steroid drug.
Some of the other chemotherapy drugs that your oncologist might recommend for prostate cancer include vinblastine, doxorubicin, carboplatin, and etoposide. These chemotherapy drugs may be administered alone or in combination with other medicines.
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.