Medroxyprogesterone acetate (Provera®)

Medroxyprogesterone acetate (Provera®) is a hormonal therapy drug used to treat breast, womb and kidney cancers. It may also be used to improve appetite or to reduce hot flushes caused by treatment for some cancers.

It is best to read this information with our general information about the type of cancer you have.

Medroxyprogesterone is usually given as tablets. You usually have it as an outpatient. Your cancer doctor, nurse or pharmacist will tell you how often you will have it.

Like all cancer drugs, medroxyprogesterone can cause side effects. Some of the side effects can be serious, so it is important to read the detailed information below.

Your healthcare team can give you advice on how to manage any side effects. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you feel unwell or have severe side effects, including any we don’t mention here.

Rarely, side effects may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

If you need to see a health professional for any reason other than cancer, always tell them that you are having this treatment.

What is Provera®?

Medroxyprogesterone (Provera®) is a hormonal therapy drug used to treat breast, kidney and womb cancers. It can be used for cancers that have started to spread to other parts of the body or have come back after treatment.

If you have a poor appetite, your doctor may prescribe medroxyprogesterone to increase it.

You may also have medroxyprogesterone to treat hot flushes due to the side effects of some cancer treatments.

It is best to read this information with our general information about hormonal therapies and the type of cancer you have.

Your doctor or nurse will explain why you are having medroxyprogesterone and how long you will take it for.

Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

Tips for talking to your doctor

Find out how to get the most out of your appointments with a GP or doctor.

About our cancer information videos

Tips for talking to your doctor

Find out how to get the most out of your appointments with a GP or doctor.

About our cancer information videos


How this drug works

Hormones are chemicals that our bodies make. Hormones act as messengers and help to control how cells and organs work. Hormonal therapies are drugs that change the way hormones are made or how they work in the body.

Many cancers need hormones to grow. Medroxyprogesterone is a man-made drug that is 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 medroxy-progesterone tablets

Medroxyprogesterone comes as tablets you can take at home. Your nurse or doctor will talk to you about your treatment plan.

Always take the tablets exactly as explained. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you. Make sure you:

  • swallow them whole with a glass of water.
  • do not chew or crush the tablets.
  • take them at the same time every day.

If you forget to take the tablets, just take your usual dose the next day. Do not take a double dose.

Other things to remember about your tablets:

  • Keep them in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Keep them safe and out of sight and reach of children.
  • If you are sick just after taking the tablets, contact your healthcare team. Do not take another dose.
  • Get a new prescription from your cancer doctor before you run out of tablets, and make sure you have enough for holidays.
  • If your treatment is stopped, return any unused tablets to the pharmacist.

Your nurse or pharmacist may also give you other medicines to take home. Take all your medicines exactly as they have been explained to you. Do not stop taking any of your medicines unless your doctor tells you to.


About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects.

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. 

If you are also having treatment with other cancer drugs, you may have some side effects that we haven’t listed here. 

Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.

Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. 

It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. 

Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. 

After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. 

Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

More information

We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.


Common side effects

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include:

  • feeling hot or flushed
  • a skin rash
  • itching
  • shivering
  • feeling dizzy
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless.

If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell a doctor or nurse straight away. Do not take any more of this treatment until you have spoken to them.

Increased appetite and weight gain

This treatment can make you feel more hungry than usual. If you are eating more, you may gain weight. This effect on your appetite will go away when you stop taking the drug. If you are worried about gaining weight, talk to your doctor or nurse.

Because of this side effect, this treatment is sometimes used to treat people who have lost interest in food and are losing weight.

Feeling sick

Some people feel sick, especially during the first few weeks of taking this treatment. Tell your doctor if you feel sick. They can prescribe anti-sickness drugs to help.

Swollen hands, feet and ankles

Your hands, feet and ankles may swell because of fluid building up in them. This is not harmful, but can be uncomfortable. Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any swelling. The swelling will get better after treatment ends.

Tiredness

Feeling tired is a common side effect. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy. If you feel sleepy, do not drive or operate machinery.

Headaches

If you have had migraines (a severe type of headache) before starting this treatment, these may get worse. Tell your doctor if you are having more headaches than usual.

Dizziness

It is important to report this to your doctor if you are affected.

Constipation

This treatment can cause constipation. Here are some tips that may help:

  • drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day
  • eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread
  • do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.

If you have constipation, contact the hospital for advice. Your doctor can give you drugs called laxatives to help.

Difficulty sleeping

This treatment can cause sleeplessness (insomnia) in some people. If you are finding it difficult to sleep, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse.

Sexual effects

Most men lose their sex drive and have erection difficulties during hormonal therapy. Things often return to normal after you stop taking the drug, but some men continue to have difficulties after treatment is over.

Your doctor can prescribe treatments to help with erection difficulties. But these treatments will not increase sex drive.

Increased sweating

This treatment can cause increased sweating in some people. Wearing natural fabrics, such as cotton, may be more comfortable if you are affected.

Coping with fatigue

Denton describes how he coped with fatigue (tiredness) during his treatment for prostate cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Coping with fatigue

Denton describes how he coped with fatigue (tiredness) during his treatment for prostate cancer.

About our cancer information videos


Less common side effects

Mood changes

Some people have mood changes and feel low or depressed when having this treatment. Let your doctor or nurse know if you notice any changes.

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:

  • pain, redness or swelling in a leg or arm
  • breathlessness
  • chest pain. 

If you have any of these symptoms, contact a doctor straight away. 

A blood clot is serious, but can be treated with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Skin rashes

You may get a skin rash that looks like acne.

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.

Raised blood calcium levels

Sometimes, people who have cancer that has spread to the bones can develop high levels of calcium in their blood (hypercalcaemia). This may happen within a few weeks of taking this treatment. Your doctor will do regular blood tests to check your calcium levels.

Common symptoms of a high calcium level include:

  • feeling thirsty and passing a lot of urine
  • tiredness
  • feeling confused or irritable
  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite.

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or nurse for advice.

Raised blood sugar levels

This treatment can raise your blood sugar levels. If you have a raised blood sugar level, you may:

  • feel thirsty
  • need to pee (pass urine) more often
  • feel tired.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.

If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this. You may need to adjust your insulin or tablet dose.

Breast changes

Your breasts may feel tender or painful. This is not harmful, but let your doctor know if it happens. They can prescribe painkillers if needed.

Changes to periods

Your periods will usually stop while you are having this treatment. Sometimes, women may have light vaginal bleeding (spotting). Let your doctor know if this happens. When you stop taking the drug you may have some bleeding from the vagina, similar to a period.

Diarrhoea

If you have diarrhoea, contact the hospital for advice. Try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids every day. It can help to avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods.

Effects on the liver

Treatment may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild. You will have regular blood tests to check how well your liver is working. Tell your doctor if you have a history of liver disease.

Cancer and depression

Alfie talks about coping with depression after his cancer diagnosis.

About our cancer information videos

Cancer and depression

Alfie talks about coping with depression after his cancer diagnosis.

About our cancer information videos


Other information

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect the hormonal treatment or be harmful when you are having it. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking, including vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having cancer treatment. 

Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.

If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.