Medroxyprogesterone acetate (Provera ®)
Medroxyprogesterone acetate is type of hormonal therapy, also called Provera ®. It is used to treat breast, womb and kidney cancers that have spread or come back after treatment.
Medroxyprogesterone may also be used to improve appetite or to reduce hot flushes caused by treatment for some cancers.
It’s best to read this information with our general information about your type of cancer.
How medroxyprogesterone works
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Hormones are substances produced naturally in the body. They act as chemical messengers and help control the activity of cells and organs. Hormonal therapies interfere with the way hormones are made or how they work in the body.
Many cancers rely on hormones to grow. Medroxyprogesterone is a man-made drug similar to the female hormone progesterone. Doctors think it may work by interfering with the hormone balance in the body. This may stop the cancer growing.
Taking your medroxyprogesterone tablets
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Medroxyprogesterone is a tablet. You usually take it once a day at the same time each day. Always take your tablets exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explained. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you. Here are some important things to remember:
If you forget to take your tablet, take one as soon as you remember. But if it’s nearly time for your next one, don’t take a double dose.
Keep tablets in their original package at room temperature and away from heat and direct sunlight.
Store your tablets in a safe place, where children can’t reach.
Get a new prescription before you run out of tablets. Make sure you have enough for holidays.
Return any remaining tablets to the pharmacist if your treatment is stopped.
Your doctor will discuss the length of treatment they feel is appropriate for your situation. Treatment may continue for as long as it is effective in controlling your cancer.
Possible side effects of medroxyprogesterone
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We explain the most common side effects of medroxyprogesterone here. But we don’t include all the rare ones that are unlikely to affect you. You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are very unlikely to get all of them. If you are having other drugs as well, you may have some side effects that we don’t list here.
Always tell your cancer doctor or nurse about the side effects you have. They can prescribe drugs to help control some side effects and give you advice about managing side effects.
If you notice any effects that are not listed here, discuss them with your doctor or nurse.
The most common side effect is feeling hungrier than usual and you may gain weight. If you’re worried about gaining weight, talk to your doctor or nurse. This effect will wear off when you stop treatment.
An increased appetite can be helpful if you need to put on weight because of weight loss.
Some people feel sick, especially during the first few weeks of taking medroxyprogesterone. Your doctor or nurse can prescribe anti-sickness tablets to help.
Swollen hands, feet and ankles
Your hands, feet and ankles may swell because of fluid building up. This is not harmful, but can be uncomfortable. Don’t wear rings that are too tight if your fingers swell. Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any fluid build-up. The swelling will get better after your treatment ends.
Your breasts may feel tender. This is not harmful, but let your doctor know if it happens.
Vaginal bleeding in women
Occasionally women may have some light vaginal bleeding (spotting). If you experience this, tell your doctor.
When you stop taking the drug, you are likely to have some bleeding from the vagina, similar to a period.
Medroxyprogesterone can cause mood changes in some people. You may feel anxious or restless, or have mood swings or problems sleeping. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have any of these side effects.
You may feel more tired than usual. Try to balance rest periods with some physical activity such as short walks. This can help you to feel less tired.
If you have had migraines (a severe type of headache) before starting medroxyprogesterone, these may get worse while you are on medroxygesterone. Tell your doctor if you’re having more headaches than usual.
You may get a skin rash. Tell your doctor about any changes to your skin.
Effect on the liver
Any effects of medroxyprogesterone on the liver are usually small and you are unlikely to notice any symptoms. But if there are changes in your liver function, these will go back to normal when treatment is finished. Your doctor will arrange for you to have regular blood tests to check how well your liver is working.
This is rare. Contact your doctor straight away if you suddenly feel unwell or have a sudden difficulty breathing, intense itching or swelling of the face or tongue.
Other information about medroxyprogesterone
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Even though women may find that their periods stop while taking medroxyprogesterone, it is still possible to get pregnant. Always use reliable contraception during treatment.
Medroxyprogesterone can interact with other drugs. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including complementary therapies, vitamins and herbal drugs.
High levels of calcium in your blood
Occasionally, people who have cancer that has spread to the bones can develop high levels of calcium in their blood within a few weeks of taking medroxyprogestrone. Your doctor will do regular blood tests to check your calcium levels. If you have symptoms such as feeling thirsty and passing a lot of urine, finding it difficult to think clearly, loss of appetite, pain, constipation or feeling sick, contact your doctor or nurse for advice.
If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual while on this drug. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this.
Risk of blood clots
This treatment can increase the risk of getting a blood clot. If you have had a blood clot in the past,discuss this with yourdoctor before taking medroxyprogesterone. Tell your doctor immediately if you have possible symptoms of a blood clot. These may include chest pain or redness, pain, warmth, swelling or tenderness in an arm or leg.
If you’re admitted to hospital for a reason not related to the cancer, it’s important to let yourdoctors and nurses know that you are having hormonal treatment. Tell them the name of your cancer doctor so that they can ask for advice if they need to.
The information in this section has been produced in accordance with the following sources and guideline: electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) (accessed July 2014).
If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us.
With thanks to Marilyna Chong, Pharmacist - Cancer Services, who reviewed this edition.
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