Chemotherapy is a way of treating cancer with medications. Because medications flow through the bloodstream to all parts of the body, chemotherapy is a way of extending treatment beyond the area where the tumors were first found. It also raises the chances of destroying cancer cells when they have moved into other body parts.
Because cancer cells usually multiply very quickly, chemotherapy medications are aimed at killing fast growing cells. There are many types of cells in your body that grow fast besides cancer cells, such as hair cells. When chemotherapy is used, all the fast growing cells in your body die for a while, along with the cancer cells.
At present, chemotherapy in prostate cancer patients is not used to cure the disease. It is used to extend life and limit the symptoms of cancer growth to make patients feel more comfortable. Prostate cancer cells usually grow more quickly than an average healthy cell, but slower than most other cancer cells. Because of this slower speed, many chemotherapy medications did not affect prostate cancer growth in the past. However, there are several new chemotherapies now available which are able to extend life and limit symptoms much more effectively than before.
The side effects of prostate cancer chemotherapy are usually milder than those of other cancers, and the effects are typically not permanent. Many people experience some hair loss, and nausea or vomiting. Your doctor will monitor your white blood cell count to make sure it does not go too low. You may also experience fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, and/or loss of appetite. Patients on chemotherapy must be careful to not be around people with contagious diseases like colds or flu, because the immune system is suppressed during chemotherapy. It is important to tell your doctor and nursing staff if you are having side effects. Many side effects can be managed well with medications or complementary therapies. Other side effects help your doctor to know how your body is handling the chemotherapy.