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Chemotherapy for prostate cancer

Chemotherapy means using drugs that kill cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. A number of chemotherapy drugs may be used, including

  • Docetaxel
  • Mitozantrone
  • Epirubicin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Estramustine

Docetaxel is the most commonly used drug. It is licensed in the UK for prostate cancer that has not responded to hormone treatment, or the hormone treatment is no longer working. It is only used for people who the doctors think are fit enough to have this chemotherapy treatment. All chemotherapy has side effects. The likely side effects have to be balanced with the potential benefit you get from the treatment in controlling the cancer for a while.

A number of clinical trials are looking into using chemotherapy to treat prostate cancer.

If you are taking any dietary supplements or herbal medicines, you need to tell your doctor. Some supplements may interact with chemotherapy and could be harmful.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating prostate cancer section.

 

 

Which chemotherapy drugs are used

Chemotherapy means using drugs that kill cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. It is used mainly if hormone therapy is not controlling the cancer. A number of chemotherapy drugs may be used and these include

The links above take you to information about the side effects of each drug.

Docetaxel is the most commonly used drug. It is used for prostate cancer that has not responded to hormone therapy. It is also used if hormone treatment is no longer controlling the cancer. But it is only used for people who are fit enough to have this chemotherapy treatment. All chemotherapy has side effects and the likely side effects have to be balanced with the potential benefit of the treatment. So it is important to talk this through with your doctor. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends up to 10 treatments per patient. They say that the treatment should stop if the cancer continues to grow or if you have severe side effects. NICE says that docetaxel should be available to men who are able to look after themselves with only occasional help.

 

Possible side effects

All chemotherapy has side effects. Those you get depend on

  • Which drug or combination of drugs you have
  • How much of each drug you have
  • How you individually react

Some people have more side effects than others. And different drugs have different side effects. So we can't tell you exactly what will happen to you. 

Chemotherapy has some general side effects though. Your blood cells divide rapidly, so chemotherapy can lower the number of healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets you have. This can mean that you 

  • Are more likely to get infections
  • May be more tired than usual
  • Can be prone to nosebleeds and other bleeding problems

If you develop a temperature above 38°C or think you have an infection, it is very important to contact the hospital immediately. You may need urgent treatment with antibiotics. Your doctor or chemotherapy nurse will give you an emergency number to phone if you need to. There is detailed information about the effect of chemotherapy on your blood cells in the cancer drugs side effects section. 

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) is the most common side effect for people having chemotherapy. It may continue for some months after your treatment ends. How quickly you get back to normal will depend on

  • Your general health
  • The amount of chemotherapy you've had
  • Other treatments you have had

Other side effects of chemotherapy can include 

You can use the links above to go to pages in the cancer drugs side effects section that tell you about coping with these effects. Side effects may seem hard to bear at the time. But most of the effects disappear when your treatment ends.

Some drugs have unusual side effects. If you are having treatment with epirubicin remember that it can make your urine turn red for a couple of days after you have the drug. Some people worry that it is blood in the urine, which can be frightening.

 

Coping with side effects

There is quite a bit that can be done to reduce side effects. And most side effects only last for the few days that you are actually having the drugs. Tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects you have as soon as they develop, so that they can help treat them. 

You can ask your doctor or nurse which of the side effects are most common with the chemotherapy drug you will have. Chemotherapy courses can seem to go on forever, particularly if you are getting very tired towards the end of your course. But they do finish. And the side effects will go once your treatment ends.

 

Clinical trials for prostate cancer

A number of clinical trials are looking into using chemotherapy to treat prostate cancer. Look at the research and trials section for more information.

 

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Also let them know if you are prescribed therapies by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners.

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking, or thinking of taking, these supplements talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

 

More information about chemotherapy

Look at the chemotherapy section. It explains the treatment in detail. If you are wondering about chemotherapy for prostate cancer, you can talk it over with your doctor. The cancer drugs section has information about the specific side effects of chemotherapy drugs. 

You can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses. There are books and booklets about chemotherapy, some of which are free. Look in the prostate cancer reading list or the reading list about cancer and treatments.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum. 

UK Prostate Link can direct you to more information about chemotherapy for prostate cancer.

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Updated: 25 February 2014