Chemotherapy is the use of any one or combination of cancer-fighting drugs. It is prescribed in cases of recurrent or advanced prostate cancer that has not responded to hormone treatment, but it is not used to treat early stage disease except as part of a clinical trial.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles of treatment followed by a recovery period. The entire treatment generally lasts three to six months, depending on the type of chemotherapy medications given. Those medications may be taken by mouth (oral) or given into the vein (intravenous or IV).
Generally, chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously (directly into the vein) or by mouth. Once the drugs are absorbed, they enter the bloodstream and travel to virtually all parts of the body to reach cancer cells that may have spread beyond the prostate.
When Is Chemotherapy Given?
Chemotherapy may be ordered for advanced prostate cancer that has not responded to hormone treatment. It is usually given for metastatic disease (disease that has spread). Metastatic disease may be present at diagnosis or, in some cases, the cancer can return in a distant location months or years after initial treatment.
Chemotherapy is given to cause the cancer to shrink and, hopefully, to disappear. Even if the cancer does not disappear, symptoms may be relieved.
What Are the Side Effects?
Because chemotherapy acts to kill rapidly-dividing cancer cells, it also kills other rapidly-dividing healthy cells in the bodies, such as the membranes lining the mouth, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, hair follicles, and bone marrow. As a result, the side effects of chemotherapy relate to these areas of damaged cells. The good news is that the damaged noncancerous cells will be replaced with healthy cells, so the side effects are only temporary.
The specific side effects you have depend on the type and amount of medicines you are given and how long you are taking them. The most common, temporary side effects of chemotherapy include: