Abiraterone for prostate cancer (Zytiga)

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Take four tablets together, once a day. Swallow the tablets whole, with water.

Take the tablets when your stomach is empty. This means taking your dose at least an hour before a mealtime, or waiting for two hours afterwards.

You will also be prescribed another medicine (either prednisone or prednisolone) to take alongside abiraterone. It is important that you take it regularly every day.

Type of medicineAn anti-androgen medicine
Used forAdvanced prostate cancer
Also calledZytiga®
Available asTablets

In some men with prostate cancer, the cancer cells spread to parts of the body other than the prostate. When this happens, it is referred to as late, advanced or metastatic prostate cancer. Treatment options for this type of cancer typically include hormone treatment, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Abiraterone is a hormone treatment - it belongs to a group of medicines known as anti-androgens. This means that it reduces the amount of male sex hormones (called androgens) that your body produces. In prostate cancer, androgens are produced by your testicles (testes), by your adrenal glands, and in the tumour cells. Abiraterone reduces the amount of androgens produced by each of these, and this slows the growth of the cancer.

Abiraterone will be prescribed for you alongside another medicine, either prednisone or prednisolone. These medicines reduce the risk of unwanted effects from abiraterone treatment.

Sometimes a medicine may only be used in people with certain conditions if extra care is taken. For this reason, before you start taking abiraterone it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you have been told you have high blood pressure, or low levels of potassium in your blood.
  • If you have heart or blood vessel problems.
  • If you have diabetes.
  • If you have any problems with the way your kidneys work, or any problems with the way your liver works.
  • If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about abiraterone and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Take abiraterone exactly as your doctor tells you to. The usual dose is four 250 mg tablets taken together, once a day. Your dose will be printed on the label of the pack to remind you about what the doctor said to you.
  • You must take the tablets when your stomach is empty. This means that you should take abiraterone at least an hour before a mealtime, or wait until at least two hours after you have eaten. This is because taking abiraterone with food will increase the amount of the medicine in your blood in a way that isn't predictable, and this is likely to cause side-effects.
  • Take the tablets with a drink of water. Swallow the tablets whole - do not crush or break the tablets in order to swallow them.
  • Try to take abiraterone at the same time of day each day as this will help you to remember to take your doses regularly.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the forgotten dose. Do not take two doses together to make up for a missed dose.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress. You will need to have regular blood tests to check on the amount of potassium in your blood and how well your liver is working. Your doctor will also want to check your blood pressure routinely.
  • It is important that you continue to take the prednisone or prednisolone tablets that you will be prescribed alongside abiraterone. You should take these tablets regularly every day. Do not stop taking them unless your doctor tells you to.
  • If you have diabetes you will need to check your blood glucose more frequently as these tablets can increase the level of sugar in your blood. Your doctor will advise you about this.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking. This is important because your dose of prednisone or prednisolone may need to be increased for a short while.
  • Abiraterone may harm an unborn child. This means that if you are having sex with a woman who could become pregnant, you must use a condom along with another effective birth control method. If you are having sex with a woman who is already pregnant, you must use a condom to protect the unborn child.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with your other medicines.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with abiraterone. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you experience any symptoms which you think may be due to abiraterone.

Very common abiraterone side-effects (these affect more than 1 in 10 men)
What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling pain on passing urine or needing to pass urine more frequentlyThese may be signs that you have a urinary tract infection
Swollen legs, feet, or ankles (due to fluid retention)Keep your feet elevated as much as possible
DiarrhoeaDrink plenty of water
High blood pressure, low levels of potassium in your blood, increased levels of fats (triglycerides) in your blood, changes to your liver function test resultsYour doctor will be monitoring your progress and will check for these
Common abiraterone side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 men)What can I do if I experience this?
Chest pain, feeling of a fast heartbeat, other heart problemsLet your doctor know
IndigestionStick to simple foods - avoid rich or spicy meals
Infections, muscle pain, skin rash, blood in your urineLet your doctor know
  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • Manufacturer's PIL, Zytiga® 250 mg tablets; Janssen-Cilag Ltd, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated March 2015.
  • British National Formulary; 69th Edition (Mar 2015) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
13897 (v2)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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