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Abiraterone (Zytiga)

Abiraterone is a hormone therapy drug. It is a treatment for prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of your body.

You might have abiraterone if other hormone treatments are no longer working and you have no or mild symptoms but you don't need chemotherapy.

Or you might have it after you have had docetaxel chemotherapy. 

You might also have abiraterone as part of a clinical trial for early stage prostate cancer.

How it works

Prostate cancer needs testosterone (male sex hormone) to grow. To make testosterone your body produces an enzyme called cytochrome p17.

Abiraterone blocks cytochrome p17 and stops your body from making testosterone. This can slow down the growth of your cancer or shrink it. 

How you have abiraterone

Abiraterone is available as tablets that you take once a day. The usual dose is 2 tablets or 4 tablets per day.

You should swallow your tablets whole with a glass of water on an empty stomach. Take them at least one hour before food, or at least 2 hours afterwards.

You take abiraterone with a steroid called prednisolone to help reduce some of the side effects. 

Taking your tablets or capsules

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

If you accidentally take more abiraterone than you should, talk to your doctor or go to a hospital straight away. 

If you forget to take a dose of abiraterone, prednisone or prednisolone, take your usual dose at the normal time the following day. If you forget to take abiraterone, prednisone or prednisolone for more than one day, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

When you have abiraterone

You carry on taking it for as long as it is still working.

Tests

You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Side effects

We haven't listed all the side effects. It is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatment you are having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you are also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects 
  • your side effects aren’t getting any better
  • your side effects are getting worse

Early treatment can help manage side effects better. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Fluid build up (oedema) 

You may have swelling of your hands and legs due to a build up of fluid (oedema). 

Urinary tract infection 

Talk to the team looking after you about this. 

Increased blood pressure

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches, nose bleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. Your nurse will check your blood pressure regularly.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, that is 4 loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid, or if it carries on for more than 3 days. Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty of liquid to replace the fluid lost.

Low potassium levels in the blood

You will have regular blood tests to check for this. 

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (1 to 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • blood in the urine
  • bone fractures
  • increased risk of getting an infection
  • high cholesterol levels in the blood
  • heart problems
  • liver changes
  • indigestion
  • skin rash

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • change in water and salt levels in the blood
  • joint and muscle pain
  • muscle weakness

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else do I need to know?

Other medicines, foods and drink 

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Spironolactone

Let your team know if you are taking this medicine. 

Contraception and drug handling

This drug may have a harmful effect on a developing baby. It is important not to father a child during treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about contraception before having treatment if there is any chance that your partner could become pregnant. You need to use a condom and another effective birth control method. 

If you have sex with a pregnant woman, use a condom to protect the unborn child.

Abiraterone is not for use in women and can cause harm to the unborn child if it is taken by women who are pregnant. Women who are pregnant or who may be pregnant should wear gloves if they need to touch or handle abiraterone tablets. 

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Lactose, sodium and abiraterone

Abiraterone contains a type of sugar called lactose. If you have an intolerance to some sugars, contact your doctor before taking this medicine.

Abiraterone also contains some salt (sodium). Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you are on a controlled sodium diet.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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