What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is given to men when they are first diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, together with hormonal therapy. It may also be used to treat cancer that is no longer being controlled by hormonal therapy.

The aim of chemotherapy for advanced prostate cancer is to control the cancer. This will help to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

The most commonly used chemotherapy drug to treat prostate cancer is docetaxel (Taxotere®). Other drugs that may be used are

Having chemotherapy for advanced prostate cancer

The chemotherapy drugs are given into a vein (intravenously). The drugs get into the blood and can reach cancer cells all over the body.

You can have chemotherapy drugs through:

  • a short thin tube that the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand (cannula)
  • a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line)
  • a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (central line).

Chemotherapy is usually given as several sessions of treatment. Each session is followed by a rest period of a few weeks. The rest period allows your body to recover from the side effects.

Some people are given drugs to take a day or two before treatment to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction or sickness. This depends on the type of treatment you have and your nurse will go over this with you.

Chemotherapy and the rest period, together, make up a cycle of your treatment. Your cancer doctor will explain the number of cycles you need to treat the cancer. After your first cycle, you’ll have a better idea of what you can plan for and how much you may or may not be able to do.

It may take several months to complete all the cycles of your chemotherapy.

Side effects of chemotherapy for advanced prostate cancer

The side effects you get will depend on the chemotherapy drugs you are having. Different drugs cause different side effects. You may get some of the side effects we mention here, but you are unlikely to get all of them. Some side effects are mild and can be treated easily. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist may prescribe drugs to help control them. Most side effects stop or gradually get better when chemotherapy is over.

We have more information about the side effects of chemotherapy.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our prostate cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Association of Urologists. Guidelines on Prostate Cancer. 2016.

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Cancer of the prostate: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. 2015.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Prostate cancer overview. Available from: pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/prostate-cancer (accessed from March 2017 to November 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Surveillance report 2016. Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management (2014). NICE guideline CG175. 2016.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editors, Dr Jim Barber, Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

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