Find My Cancer Drug
Abiraterone Acetate (Zytiga®)
Last Modified: July 20, 2015
Pronounced: A-bir-A-ter-one AS-e-tate
About Abiraterone Acetate
Most prostate cancers need supplies of the male hormone testosterone to grow. Testosterone is an androgen (type of hormone) produced by the testes and adrenal glands. Abiraterone acetate works by blocking an enzyme necessary for the production of testosterone. Without testosterone, the cancer cells may either grow more slowly, or stop growing altogether.
How to Take Abiraterone Acetate
Abiraterone acetate is given as a tablet that should be taken once a day, on an empty stomach, 1 hour before or 2 hours after eating. Take the tablet(s) whole with water; do not chew, break or crush them.
The blood levels of this medication can be affected by certain foods and medications, so they should be avoided. These include (but are not limited to): rifampin, phenytoin, St. John's wort and dexamethasone. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about all medications and supplements you take.
Storage and Handling
Store this medication at room temperature in the original container. If you prefer to use a pillbox, discuss this with your oncology pharmacist. Ask your oncology team where to return any unused medication for disposal. Do not flush down the toilet or throw in the trash.
Women who are pregnant, or who may become pregnant, should not touch abiraterone acetate without protection, such as gloves.
Where do I get this medication?
Abiraterone acetate is available through select specialty pharmacies. Your oncology team will work with your prescription drug plan to identify an in-network specialty pharmacy for distribution of this medication and shipment directly to your home.
This medication may be covered under your prescription drug plan. Patient assistance may be available to qualifying individuals without prescription drug coverage. Co-pay cards, which reduce the patient co-pay responsibility for eligible commercially (non-government sponsored) insured patients, are also available.
Possible Side Effects of Abiraterone Acetate
There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of abiraterone acetate. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:
There are a few things you can do to help with hot flashes. Several medications have been shown to help with symptoms, including clonidine (a blood pressure medication), low doses of certain antidepressants (such as venlafaxine and Prozac), and gabapentin. Non-medical recommendations include:
- Keep well-hydrated with eight glasses of water daily.
- Drink ice water or apply an ice pack at the onset of a hot flash.
- Wear cotton or lightweight, breathable fabrics and dress in layers so you can adjust as needed.
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Try practicing meditation or relaxation exercises to manage stress, which can be a trigger.
- Avoid triggers such as warm rooms, spicy foods, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol.
Hypokalemia (low potassium levels)
Abiraterone acetate can cause imbalances in your potassium levels. Your healthcare team will periodically check your potassium levels with blood tests and may give you supplemental electrolytes or reduce the dose of this medication.
Muscle or Joint Pain/Aches and Headache
Your doctor or nurse can recommend medication and other strategies to relive pain.
This drug can affect your reproductive system, resulting in sperm production becoming irregular or stopping permanently. In addition, you may experience erectile dysfunction or a decreased desire for sex during treatment. Talk to your urologist about options for treating erectile dysfunction.
Nausea and/or Vomiting
Talk to your doctor or nurse so they can prescribe medications to help you manage nausea and vomiting. In addition, dietary changes may help. Avoid things that may worsen the symptoms, such as heavy or greasy/fatty, spicy or acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, oranges). Try antacids, (e.g. milk of magnesia, calcium tablets such as Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms.
Call your doctor or nurse if you are unable to keep fluids down for more than 12 hours or if you feel lightheaded or dizzy at any time.
Weakening of the bones (osteoporosis)
Men who take hormone therapy for extended periods of time are at risk for bone thinning (osteoporosis). You may be advised to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to help prevent bone loss. Weight bearing exercise and a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can also help protect your bone health. You may have a bone density scan (DEXA scan) to assess your bone health. If your physician determines that you are at high risk of developing osteoporosis, they may recommend additional treatment with a type of medication called a bisphosphonate to help strengthen the bones.
High Blood Pressure and Swelling (Edema)
This medication can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) and swelling. Patients should have their blood pressure checked regularly during therapy. Any hypertension should be treated appropriately. If hypertension cannot be controlled, the medication may be stopped. If you experience headaches, dizziness, fast heartbeat, rapid weight gain or swelling in your legs or feet, notify your oncology team.
Your oncology team can recommend medications to relieve diarrhea. Also, try eating low-fiber, bland foods, such as white rice and boiled or baked chicken. Avoid raw fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals and seeds. Soluble fiber is found in some foods and absorbs fluid, which can help relieve diarrhea. Foods high in soluble fiber include: applesauce, bananas (ripe), canned fruit, orange sections, boiled potatoes, white rice, products made with white flour, oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of wheat, and farina. Drink 8-10 glasses on non-alcoholic, un-caffeinated fluid a day to prevent dehydration.
Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anemia)
Your red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues in your body. When the red cell count is low, you may feel tired or weak. You should let your doctor or nurse know if you experience any shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or pain in your chest. If the count gets too low, you may receive a blood transfusion.
Fatigue is very common during cancer treatment and is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that is not usually relieved by rest. While on cancer treatment, and for a period after, you may need to adjust your schedule to manage fatigue. Plan times to rest during the day and conserve energy for more important activities. Exercise can help combat fatigue; a simple daily walk with a friend can help. Talk to your healthcare team for helpful tips on dealing with this side effect.
This medication can cause liver toxicity, which your doctor may monitor for using blood tests called liver function tests. If you develop elevations in your liver function tests, your healthcare provider may need to lower your dose or stop the medication. Notify your healthcare provider if you notice yellowing of the skin or eyes, your urine appears dark or brown or pain in your abdomen, as these can be signs of liver toxicity.
Exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not father a child while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment, even if you believe you are not producing sperm. You may want to consider sperm banking if you may wish to have a child in the future. Discuss these options with your oncology team.
Other Side Effects
Some men report mood swings and depression while on hormone therapy. It can be helpful to talk about concerns and feelings with a partner or close friend. If you find that feelings of sadness are interfering with life, talk with your team about finding a counselor experienced in working with cancer patients.