Since 81 percent of the prostate cancers diagnosed at Beaumont Cancer Institute are confined to the prostate, most are treated with surgery or radiotherapy rather than chemotherapy. Medical oncologists at Beaumont work closely with surgical and radiation specialists to coordinate care and chemotherapy may be indicated for patients with intermediate- and high-risk cancers. Docetaxel (Taxotere) given with prednisone was the first prostate cancer chemotherapy regimen to demonstrate improved survival in patients who no longer responded to hormone therapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancerous cells. Specific treatment for prostate cancer will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- stage of the cancer
- your tolerance for specific medications and procedures
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
Often chemotherapy is not the primary therapy for men with prostate cancer, but it may be used when prostate cancer has spread outside of the prostate gland, or in combination with other therapies.
According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy is not effective against early prostate cancer. And although it may slow tumor growth and reduce pain, it also has had limited success for the treatment of advanced prostate disease.
However, in 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of docetaxel (Taxotere) along with Prednisone, a steroid, for use in prostate cancer that had no longer responded to hormone therapy. This is the first chemotherapy regimen that has been shown to improve survival.
How is chemotherapy administered?
Your oncologist will determine how long and how often chemotherapy treatments are necessary, if at all. Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously (in the vein) or by pill, and usually involves a combination of drugs. Chemotherapy treatments are often given in cycles: a treatment period, followed by a recovery period, followed by another treatment period.
Chemotherapy may be given in a variety of settings including your home, a hospital outpatient facility, a physician’s office or clinic, or in a hospital. Hospitalization may be necessary to monitor treatment and to control chemotherapy’s side effects.
What are the most common side effects of chemotherapy?
As each person’s individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.
Most side effects of chemotherapy disappear once treatment is completed. Common side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drug used, the dosage, and the length of treatment, and may include the following:
- nausea and vomiting
- hair loss
- reduced ability of blood to clot
- mouth sores
- increased likelihood of infection