Abiraterone acetate (Zytiga®)
This information is about a hormonal treatment for advanced prostate cancer called abiraterone acetate (often shortened to abiraterone). It is also known as Zytiga®.
Abiraterone is a hormonal therapy. It's used to treat men with advanced prostate cancer that has progressed during or after treatment with a docetaxel chemotherapy regimen or other hormonal treatment.
We have more information on what you can do if a treatment isn’t available.
Hormonal therapies interfere with the production or action of particular hormones. Hormones are substances produced naturally in the body. They act as chemical messengers and help control the activity of cells and organs.
The male hormone, testosterone, can help prostate cancer cells grow, and hormonal treatments are often used to try to slow down this growth. To produce testosterone, the body needs an enzyme called 17α-hydroxylase (CYP17). CYP17 is found in the testicles, adrenal glands and prostate cancer cells. Most hormonal therapies either stop the production of testosterone in the testicles or block it from connecting with the cancer cells. Abiraterone works by blocking CYP17 so that testosterone can’t be produced.
What abiraterone looks like
Back to top
Abiraterone is available as 250mg white tablets.
Abiraterone tablets are taken once a day on an empty stomach. You should take abiraterone at least two hours after eating, and you shouldn’t eat for at least one hour after taking the tablets.
Many people find it’s best to take abiraterone before breakfast and wait for an hour before eating. The tablets should be swallowed whole with a glass of water, and they must not be chewed or crushed. Try to take abiraterone at approximately the same time every day. You’ll usually take four tablets daily, but sometimes your doctor may alter the dose.
You will also be given steroid tablets called prednisolone. These should be taken every morning after breakfast. These help reduce some of the side effects of abiraterone. It’s important that you do not stop taking these steroid tablets unless advised by your doctor.
Abiraterone is given to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced prostate cancer). If you’re already taking a hormonal therapy such as goserelin (Zoladex®) or leuprorelin (Prostap®), your doctor may ask you to continue with your existing treatment while taking abiraterone.
Your doctor will discuss the length of treatment they feel is appropriate for your situation with you.
Each person’s reaction to any medication is different. Some people have very few side effects while other may experience more. The side effects described here won’t affect everyone having this treatment.
Abiraterone treatment is usually well tolerated. We’ve outlined the most common side effects but haven’t included those that are rare and therefore unlikely to affect you. If you do notice any effects that aren’t listed in this information, please discuss them with your doctor, nurse, specialist or pharmacist.
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Abiraterone may cause a rise in blood pressure. Your blood pressure will be checked regularly. It’s important that you take your prednisolone tablets to avoid this.
Abiraterone and/or the steroids may affect the salt and water balance in your body. You may notice that your ankles and/or fingers swell. Some people have a bloated feeling in the abdomen. Let your doctor know if this happens. The steroid tablets should help reduce this side effect.
Feeling tired is a common side effect of many cancer treatments. If this happens to you, it’s important to try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. Try to balance this with doing some gentle exercise, such as short walks, which will help. If tiredness is making you feel sleepy, don’t drive or operate machinery.
Urinary tract infections (UTI)
There is a risk of bladder infections while taking abiraterone. Let your doctor know if you need to pass more urine than usual or if you have pain when passing urine. If you develop a temperature above 38°C (100.4°F) and feel unwell, contact your doctor immediately.
Changes to the normal rhythm of your heart
If this happens, it's usually temporary and can be reversed with medication. Your heart function will be checked before treatment starts. You’ll also have regular blood tests to check a chemical in the blood called potassium. Changes in your potassium levels can affect the normal rhythm of the heart.
Treatment with abiraterone may cause changes in the way that your liver works. You're very unlikely to notice any problems, but your doctor will take regular blood samples to check that your liver is working properly. When you first start taking abiraterone, you may need to have blood tests as frequently as every two weeks.
Always let your doctor or nurse know about any side effects you have. There are usually ways in which they can be controlled or improved.
Back to top
Some medicines, including those you can buy in a shop or chemist, can be harmful to take when you’re having abiraterone. Tell your doctor about any medicines you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
It's not advisable to father a child while taking abiraterone, as it may harm the developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception while taking this drug. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.
It’s not known whether this drug is present in semen. To protect your partner, it’s safest to use a barrier form of contraception while taking abiraterone.
If you’re admitted to hospital for a reason not related to your cancer, it’s important to tell the doctors and nurses looking after you that you’re having treatment for prostate cancer. You should also tell them the name of the drugs you’re taking. It’s important for the doctors to know you’re taking prednisolone. You should tell them the name of your cancer specialist so that they can ask for advice.
It’s a good idea to know who you should contact if you have any problems or troublesome side effects when you’re at home. During office hours, you can contact the clinic or ward where you had your treatment. Your nurse or doctor will tell you who to contact during the evening or at weekends.
Things to remember about abiraterone tablets
Back to top
It’s important to take your tablets at the right times as directed by your doctor.
Always tell any doctors treating you for non-cancerous conditions that you’re taking a medication that shouldn’t be stopped without advice from your cancer specialist.
Keep the tablets in their original packaging and store them at room temperature.
Keep the tablets in a safe place, out of the reach of children.
If your doctor decides to stop the treatment, return any remaining tablets to the pharmacist. Don’t flush them down the toilet or throw them away.
If you’re sick just after taking the dose, don’t take another dose without speaking to your doctor first.
If you forget to take a dose, don’t take a double dose. Let your doctor know and keep to your regular dose schedule.
Cancer Research UK. 2011 Abiraterone for prostate cancer. (accessed 17 February 2011).
Electronic Medicines Compendium. (accessed October 2011).
Danila D, et al. Phase II Multicentre study of abiraterone acetate plus prednisone therapy in patients with docetaxel-treated castration-resistant prostate cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2010. 28(9).
De Bono J, et al. Abiraterone and increased survival in metastatic prostate cancer. N Engl J Med. 2011. 364(21): 1995–2005.
De Bono J, et al. Abiraterone acetate plus low dose prednisone improves overall survival in patients with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer who have progressed after docetaxel-based chemotherapy: results of COU-AA-301, a Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled phase III study. Ann Oncol. 2010.
De Bono J, et al. Anti-tumour activity of abiraterone acetate, a CYP17 inhibitor of androgen synthesis, in chemotherapy naïve and docetaxel pre-treated castration resistant prostate cancer (Abstract). J Clin Oncol. 2009.
National Horizon Scanning Centre. Abiraterone acetate for metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer. May 2010.
Pantuck A. Use of abiraterone for prostate cancer. American Urological association education and research Inc. 2011.
Reid A, et al. Significant and sustained anti-tumour activity in post-docetaxel, castration-resistant prostate cancer with the CYP17 Inhibitor abiraterone acetate. J Clin Oncol. 2010. 28(9).
Ryan C. Abiraterone in prostate cancer. Clinical Advances in Hematology & Oncology.