Chemotherapy is not commonly used to treat prostate cancer. There are two specific sets of circumstances, however, where chemotherapy may be the best choice to treat your prostate cancer.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of certain drugs that act throughout the body to cause rapidly dividing cells to die. Because cancer cells are nearly always more rapidly dividing than normal cells, chemotherapy kills cancer cells at a higher rate than normal cells.
Chemotherapy has two important properties to be aware of:
- Chemotherapy is systemic. This means that it works throughout the body and does not target a specific area (such as the prostate).
- Chemotherapy is toxic. This means that it causes rapidly dividing cells to die.
Therefore, chemotherapy works throughout the body to kill cancer cells. It also works throughout the body to kill rapidly dividing normal cells as well.
Skin, hair follicle, gastrointestinal tract, and bone marrow cells are all rapidly dividing normal cells and are all, therefore, affected by chemotherapy. This explains why patients lose their hair, have gastrointestinal issues (such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea), and sometimes have low blood counts (blood cells are made in the bone marrow) while undergoing chemotherapy.
When Is Chemotherapy Used for Prostate Cancer?
Chemotherapy is not used often to treat prostate cancer. There are two specific sets of circumstances where it is employed, however.
- For “hormone-refractory” prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer that has stopped responding to hormone therapy is said to be “hormone-refractory.” Once this point has been reached, hormone therapies will have only minimal benefit in controlling the growth of the cancer. Therefore, systemic therapies such as chemotherapy are used.
- For advanced prostate cancer that has metastasized (spread) to areas of the body distant from the prostate.
Prostate cancer that has spread far from the prostate has reached an advanced stage that is not easily curable with surgery, radiation, or other standard treatments. In order to treat the cancer wherever it has spread in the body, a systemic treatment such as chemotherapy is needed.