What is abiraterone?

Abiraterone (Zytiga®) is a new type of hormone therapy for men with prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced prostate cancer) and has stopped responding to other hormone therapy treatments. It may help some men to live longer. It can also help control symptoms.

What other treatments are available?

Who can have abiraterone?

Abiraterone is suitable for men with advanced prostate cancer that has stopped responding to other hormone therapy and chemotherapy, such as docetaxel. Abiraterone is available for these men on the NHS.

But if you’ve already had enzalutamide as well as chemotherapy, abiraterone is not widely available.

  • In England, you won’t be able to have abiraterone if you’ve already had enzalutamide – unless you had to stop taking enzalutamide within three months because of severe side effects or because your cancer continued to grow.
  • In Wales, you won’t be able to have abiraterone if you've already had enzalutamide.
  • In Scotland and Northern Ireland, if you've already had enzalutamide, you should speak to your doctor about whether abiraterone is available for you.

Before chemotherapy

Abiraterone is also effective in men who have stopped responding to hormone therapy but haven't yet had chemotherapy. It is licensed for these men in the UK, but it’s not widely available on the NHS. This is because the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) haven’t recommended it for these men. But if your doctor thinks it’s suitable for you, they may be able to apply for you to get it. Read more about getting new treatments.

Ask your doctor or nurse whether abiraterone is suitable for you. You can also speak to our Specialist Nurses.

How does abiraterone treat prostate cancer?

Abiraterone works by stopping the production of the hormone testosterone. Without testosterone, the cancer cells can't grow, wherever they are in the body.

What does treatment involve?

Abiraterone is taken as tablets. You will usually take 4 tablets once a day, although this can vary depending on what your doctor suggests. Abiraterone should be taken on an empty stomach, so your doctor or nurse may suggest taking the tablets before breakfast, and waiting an hour before eating.

You will also take a steroid called prednisolone to reduce the risk of side effects. This is also a tablet and is usually taken twice a day.

What are the side effects?

Like all treatments, abiraterone can cause side effects. Taking prednisolone as well as abiraterone will reduce the risk of side effects. Most men don’t have many problems with side effects. Possible side effects include:

  • fluid retention, which can cause swelling in your ankles or hands
  • high blood pressure
  • liver problems.

Abiraterone can also cause the level of potassium in your blood to drop. This could make you feel tired and you may be at risk of a fast, irregular heartbeat. Speak to your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

What happens next?

Your doctor will monitor your health with blood tests, and you will have regular blood pressure checks. They will also check how you are feeling and ask if you have any side effects.

For more information on abiraterone, speak to your doctor or nurse, or call our Specialist Nurses.

References

Updated: March 2015
To be reviewed: March 2017

  • Full list of references used to produce this page  

    De Bono JS, Logothetis CJ, Molina A, Fizazi K, North S, Chu L, et al. Abiraterone and increased survival in metastatic prostate cancer. N Engl J Med. 2011 May 26;364(21):1995–2005.

    Janssen Biotech Inc. Taking Zytiga tablets: An Overview [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2014 Aug 15]. Available from: http://www.zytiga.com/taking-zytiga