Understanding Prostate Cancer: Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is usually recommended when prostate cancer has spread. It is also an option when the cancer no longer responds to hormone therapy.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually these drugs are given through a vein. This is called intravenous or IV. You can receive chemotherapy in different ways:

  • At a clinic
  • At a hospital
  • At your doctor’s office

You can even take your chemotherapy at home if the medicine is a pill.

Sometimes it’s necessary to stay in the hospital during chemotherapy but not often.

What to Expect

Side effects of chemotherapy differ from patient to patient. The side effects really depend on which drug is given and how much given. The reason chemotherapy can cause side effects is that while it kills cancer cells, chemotherapy can also hurt normal cells.

Here are some common side effects:

  • Fatigue and weakness. You are more likely to bruise or bleed easily. You are also more likely to get infections. All these side effects are because chemotherapy decreases your level of healthy blood cells. If the side effects become too great, your doctor may stop the chemotherapy for a while. Or you may take another medicine that can help your body make new blood cells.
  • Hair loss. Chemotherapy can affect the cells in the roots of your hair. This causes hair loss. Eventually your hair will grow back but may be different in color and texture.
  • Lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These are common side effects of chemotherapy drugs, because they affect the cells lining your digestive tract. Your doctor can give you medicines that will help with these symptoms.
  • Fevers. You should always call your doctor if you have a fever when on chemotherapy.  Chemotherapy can cause your white blood cells, which fight infection, to drop.   If not treated, an infection with a low white cell count can be life threatening.

Other side effects can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Bloating or holding extra water
  • Skin rash
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet

Most side effects go away when chemotherapy is over.

Before you choose to start chemotherapy, here are some questions to ask:

  • Why do you recommend chemotherapy over other treatments?
  • Which drug or drugs will I have?
  • How do the drugs work?
  • What are the benefits of this treatment?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of treatment?
  • What can we do about the side effects?
  • When will treatment start?
  • When will it end?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities?

Back to “Understanding Prostate Cancer: An Introduction”

Return to list of treatment options.