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When Your Prostate Cancer Treatment Isn't Working

If you have advanced prostate cancer, your doctor may provide palliative treatments. These are treatments that relieve symptoms and make you more comfortable.

Palliative care doesn't cure prostate cancer. But your doctor may provide it alongside other treatments that fight your cancer.

Palliative care can help relieve both physical and mental symptoms related to your disease. It can also address concerns affecting your loved ones.

Here are some symptoms you may face and ways to ease them.


Prostate cancer can spread to other parts of your body. Cancer in the bones is a common source of pain during advanced disease. Some ways to relieve your pain are:

Pain drugs. These include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen for mild pain.
  • For severe pain, options include OxyContin (oxycodone), Dolophine (methadone), and Fentanyl patches.
  • Antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs for nerve-related pain.

Physical treatments. These include treatments such as:

  • Massage
  • Ice
  • Heat packs
  • Acupuncture

Chemotherapy or targeted radiation. This can be used to shrink a tumor that's causing pain.

Surgery. Surgery can be done to relieve pressure on the spine from a tumor.

Anxiety and Depression

Men with advanced prostate cancer may feel worried, depressed, and afraid. Consider these options for depression and anxiety:

  • Talk with a therapist or counselor.
  • Join a support group.
  • Anxiety and antidepressant medications.


Many things can cause fatigue when you have advanced prostate cancer. Lack of interest in eating can make you feel weak and tired. Pain and depression can make you fatigued, and so can many drugs for treating cancer or its symptoms.

Some ways to fight fatigue include:

  • Supplement shakes to boost your nutrition
  • Stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate
  • Advice for planning your activities so you have enough energy when you need it
  • Steps to treat nausea and other problems that keep you from eating
  • Exercise program to help you feel more energetic
  • Cane or wheelchair to help you move around more easily

Bladder Problems

Surgery and radiation for prostate cancer may cause men to have trouble holding their urine. Steps that can help you control your urine better include:

  • Do Kegel exercises to strengthen muscles near your bladder. A physical therapist can teach you how to do these properly.
  • Visit the restroom on a regular schedule.
  • Drink less fluids, especially at night.
  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol.
  • Surgery to help your urinary tract hold fluid better.

Prostate cancer may also block the flow of urine from your bladder. A catheter -- a tube inserted into your bladder that lets urine drain -- can fix this problem. So can a procedure called TURP, in which tissue is surgically removed from the prostate through the penis.

Trouble Having Sex

Prostate cancer treatments such as surgery and radiation can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction (ED). So can treatments that reduce your testosterone. Some options to consider for this problem:

  • Drugs that encourage erections, such as Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis.
  • Penile injection therapy or vacuum erection devices.
  • Meet with a counselor, either alone or with your partner, to come up with new ways to connect physically besides sex.

Hot Flashes

Cancer treatments that lower your testosterone can cause hot flashes, which cause a bothersome sense of warmth.

Some antidepressants and hormone medications are helpful in treating hot flashes. You can also simply turn on a fan or wear lighter clothing.

Caregiving Issues

Health care professionals can help arrange home nursing care or hospice care for people with advanced prostate cancer, if needed, so their loved ones have fewer caregiving duties. This is a form of palliative care that can help families enjoy more of their time together.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sheldon Marks, MD on March 26, 2013

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