Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatment recommendations for prostate cancer.

The purpose of chemotherapy, or “chemo,” is simply to kill cancer cells. This goal is accomplished with either oral medication or anti-cancer drugs delivered intravenously. If you are getting ready to undergo chemo for prostate cancer, here’s what you need to know about this treatment option.

When Chemo is Considered

If the cancer is limited to the prostate gland itself, a radical prostatectomy – the surgical removal of the prostate gland – is often the standard treatment. Chemotherapy is more likely to become an option if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland.

Usually hormone therapy is the first recommendation before chemo becomes an option. What HT does, in this case, is stop the production of testosterone or keep this male hormone from reaching cancer cells. Doing so may slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. If hormone therapy isn’t working, however, chemotherapy is typically the next treatment suggested.

Drug Options with Chemo for Prostate Cancer

Chemotherapy involves the use of different drugs. With prostate cancer, docetaxel (Taxotere) and cabazitaxel (Jevtana) are among the common medications used. Docetaxel, in particular, is often the first drug used for prostate cancer patients having chemotherapy. It’s usually combined with prednisone, which is a corticosteroid (steroid) drug.

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Before Chemotherapy Starts

Prior to starting treatment, it’s common for blood tests to be done. The purpose of this step is to check liver and kidney functions. Heart tests may be performed as well to assess your heart health. The results of these tests will determine if you are strong enough health-wise to start chemo.

What to Expect During Chemo

You may be given a pill form of docetaxel when you start chemotherapy for prostate cancer or you may be given an IV form of the drug. If IV chemo is the better option for your situation, you’ll likely have your chemo session at a clinic or hospital, although it is an outpatient treatment.

If you are given the IV version of the drug, a catheter, port, or pump will be used to deliver the medication. Some patients are given both the pill or capsule form and the IV form. If the first drug used stops working is not effective, cabazitaxel is usually the next medication used for prostate cancer patients. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles that include a brief resting period between dosages to give your body time to recover.

Chemotherapy Goals

Typically, the goal with chemotherapy is to slow the growth of cancer and ease the symptoms associated with prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it’s not likely that prostate cancer will be fully cured with chemotherapy. Even so, you may benefit from an improved quality of life.

Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and hair loss are common side effects associated with chemotherapy. What you may experience will depend on the dosage you are given and how your body reacts to the medication. Chemotherapy for prostate cancer may be combined with radiation therapy to improve results. Some patients also benefit from biological therapy (immunotherapy), which involves using the body’s own immune system to target cancer cells.