Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill prostate cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body to the cancer cells. Chemotherapy is generally used when prostate cancer is found outside of the prostate, when other treatment methods fail, or to relieve symptoms of metastatic cancer and prolong life. It may also be more useful when combined with other treatment methods.

For prostate cancer, chemotherapy drugs and are generally given one at a time rather than in combination with one another. Chemotherapy drugs for prostate cancer may include:

  • Docetaxel—most commonly used first
  • Cabazitaxel
  • Mixtoxantrone
  • Estramustine

Chemotherapy is given by IV. IV chemotherapy is delivered in cycles over a set period of time. A medical oncologist will determine how many cycles of chemotherapy are needed and what combination of drugs will work best.

Though the drugs are targeted to cancer cells, they can affect healthy cells as well. The death of cancer cells and impact on healthy cells can cause a range of side effects. A medical oncologist will work to find the best drug combination and dosage to have the most impact on the cancer cells and minimal side effects on healthy tissue. Side effects or complications from chemotherapy may include:

  • Fatigue due to anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low white blood cell counts, which increase the risk of infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Cognitive and/or memory problems
  • Hair loss

A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. In some cases, the chemotherapy regimen may be adjusted to reduce severe side effects. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.