Abiraterone (Zytiga)

Abiraterone is a hormone therapy drug. It is a treatment for prostate cancer.

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
  • after you have had docetaxel chemotherapy
  • as part of a clinical trial for early stage prostate cancer

How it works

Prostate cancer needs testosterone (male sex hormone) to grow. Abiraterone blocks and stops your body from making testosterone. This can help slow down the growth of the cancer.

How you have abiraterone

Abiraterone is available as tablets that you take once a day. The usual dose is 2 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 healthcare team before you stop taking or miss a dose of a cancer drug.

When you have abiraterone

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


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

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. 

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you 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 advice line immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects. But you might have some of them at the same time.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 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). 

Infection of the water works

You might have an infection of the water works called a urinary tract infections (UTIs). This can make it difficult to pass urine, you might go with some urgency or more often. There may be pain or burning when you go. You may see blood in your urine, or your urine might smell bad or look cloudy.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you think you might have a urinary tract infection.

Increased blood pressure

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches, nosebleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. You have your blood pressure checked regularly.


Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more 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 to replace the fluid lost.

Low potassium levels in the blood

You will have regular blood tests to check for this. 

Liver changes 

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.

Occasional side effects

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

  • blood in the urine
  • breaks in the bones (fractures)
  • a severe whole body infection that can be life threatening (sepsis)
  • high fat levels in the blood
  • heart problems such as fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or breathlessness
  • indigestion
  • skin rash

Rare side effects

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

  • low levels of hormones from the glands above your kidneys (adrenal glands) – symptoms might include cravings of salt, low blood sugar, tummy pain, and feeling very tired
  • muscle weakness and pain
  • muscle damage (rhabdomyolosis) – symptoms include muscle pain, weakness, high temperature and red or brown urine. This can lead to kidney problems

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.


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.  

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment. For example, 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.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

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