Prostate Cancer: Chemotherapy

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy (chemo) uses anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines are made to attack and kill cancer cells, which grow quickly.

Some normal cells also grow quickly. Because of this, chemotherapy can also harm those cells. This can cause side effects.

When might chemotherapy be used for prostate cancer?

Chemotherapy can be used to treat advanced prostate cancer. It's often used if hormone therapy is no longer effective or the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland. Chemo might also be used along with hormone therapy for the initial treatment of advanced prostate cancer, especially if the cancer has spread widely.

How is chemotherapy given for prostate cancer?

Most people have chemotherapy as outpatients at hospitals or chemotherapy clinics. You likely won't need to stay overnight. Chemo is given in cycles that usually last 2 to 3 weeks. You will be given the medicines with rest periods in between. This is to help let your body recover.

There are many different kinds of chemo medicines. You will likely be given only 1 medicine for your treatment. Each medicine works in a different way. The main chemo medicines for prostate cancer are given in a vein through an IV (intravenous) line. But estramustine is given in pill form.

What types of medicines are used to treat prostate cancer?

The most common medicine used is docetaxel. It's usually given with prednisone. This is a steroid medicine. Other chemo medicines that might be used include cabazitaxel, estramustine, and mitoxantrone.

What are common side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemo attacks normal cells as well as cancer cells. This can cause side effects. The side effects depend on the amount and type of medicine used. Talk with your healthcare providers about what to expect. Side effects may occur in the days or weeks while you are having chemo. Once your treatment has ended, the side effects usually go away. The side effects may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Decreased appetite

  • Sores in the mouth

  • Diarrhea

  • Feeling tired

  • Increased chance of infection

  • Loss of hair

  • Easy bruising

  • Tingling, burning feelings, or numbness in the hands or feet (called neuropathy). Sometimes this can last for a while or be lifelong (permanent).

Talk with your providers about any side effects you have. They may be able to help lessen them. 

Working with your healthcare provider

It's important to know which medicines you're taking. Write the names of your medicines down, and ask your healthcare team how they work and what side effects they might have.

Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs to look for and when to call them. For instance, chemo can make you more likely to get infections. Make sure you know what number to call with questions. Is there a different number for evenings and weekends?

It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking, and emotional changes. 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 healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2021
© 2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.