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How is chemotherapy used to treat prostate cancer?

Besides surgery, highly targeted radiation therapies are also used to kill prostate cancer tumors, along with other innovative treatments, like hormone therapy and immunotherapy, which fight against the growth of new cancer cells. By minimizing the risk of incontinence and erectile dysfunction, these therapies help to preserve quality of life after prostate cancer treatment.

The cancer care team uses a variety of leading chemotherapy drugs to treat prostate cancer, with innovative treatment delivery methods:

  • Systemic chemotherapy can be taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, and is designed to reach cancer cells throughout the body.
  • Regional chemotherapy is delivered directly into the prostate or another part of the body to target cancer cells in specific areas.

Prostate cancer chemotherapy treatments are individualized for each for each patient. Your care team will look at your blood counts and other health indicators to choose the right combination of chemotherapy drugs, along with other prostate cancer treatments, if any.

Chemotherapy for the treatment of prostate cancer is the use of anticancer drugs that go through the entire body. Chemotherapy is prescribed by medical oncologists, who are experts in using this kind of treatment. Chemotherapy for prostate cancer is used only for very advanced cancers that no longer respond to hormonal therapy.

There are a number of chemotherapy drugs that can be used for prostate cancer. They are often used in combinations. The use of chemotherapy in prostate cancer is currently being studied, and men who get chemotherapy are encouraged to talk to their doctors about clinical trials. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the different regimens that your medical oncologist will discuss with you.

Some chemotherapy medications are used to treat prostate cancer. Provenge is given before chemotherapy. The sequence approved by the Food and Drug Administration is to use abiraterone and MDV3100 after chemotherapy, but we will be conducting clinical trials to test the effectiveness of using these drugs before chemotherapy.

Different chemotherapy medications destroy cancer cells by a variety of different mechanisms. Many work on the DNA of a cell to prevent it from reproducing, while others deprive cancer cells of what they need to grow. Chemotherapy may be used for prostate cancer that has spread and when hormone therapy has been ineffective. Several are FDA approved and commonly used to improve survival after hormone therapies have been tried.

Dr. Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematologist & Oncologist

Prostate cancer cells usually grow more rapidly than normal cells. Chemotherapy for prostate cancer works against them by interfering with their growth and reproduction. However, the drugs are absorbed by tissues throughout the body, so healthy cells can also be harmed, especially those that divide quickly.

Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat early prostate cancer, because it is most effective for fast-growing malignancies that spread quickly—qualities that usually don't apply to prostate cancer. However, it's routinely used for men with advanced cancer who no longer respond to hormone therapy, a situation once referred to as androgen-independent, or hormone-refractory, prostate cancer.

Chemotherapy drugs for prostate cancer are given in pill form or intravenously. They are usually taken in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a rest period. This cycle can be daily, weekly, or every three to four weeks, depending on the drug and your tolerance. Combinations of chemotherapy drugs are often more effective than single drugs, but even these combinations aren't particularly effective for advanced hormone-refractory prostate cancer.

The damage that chemotherapy does to normal cells can cause side effects. For example, hair loss, one of the classic side effects of chemotherapy, occurs because the drugs damage the cells of hair follicles. Cells in the bone marrow, mouth, stomach, and intestines are also commonly affected.

Medications such as hormonal therapy and chemotherapy are used to treat the symptoms of prostate cancer. This treatment is called "palliative," meaning it is meant to treat the symptoms of the disease rather the get rid of it entirely. In later stages of prostate cancer, in which a full cure is unlikely, treatment with chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy is much more common and is used to ease the pain of the cancer symptoms.

Chemotherapy is used to help prostate cancer patients who have hormone refractory disease. This is disease that no longer responds to androgen deprivation therapy (“hormonal therapy”), and is progressing. It is mostly used in patients who have symptoms from their disease, such as bone pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.