Paclitaxel

Updated 
August 31, 2015
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Paclitaxelinfo-icon (Taxolinfo-icon) is a type of taxaneinfo-icon chemotherapyinfo-icon. It is made from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. It is used to treat breast and other cancers.

How Paclitaxel Works

Paclitaxelinfo-icon works by damaging the structure or the “skeleton” that supports cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells from growing and dividing.

How Paclitaxel Is Given

Although it can be given alone, paclitaxelinfo-icon is usually given with other chemotherapyinfo-icon medicines in early-stageinfo-icon breast cancers that require chemotherapy. A common combination in breast cancer is AC-T (Adriamycin and Cytoxan, followed by Taxol).

Paclitaxel is given by veininfo-icon. It is usually given in several cycles, with a day of treatment followed by a period of “off” days. The exact schedule depends on the regimeninfo-icon and doseinfo-icon used. It is often given weekly, every two weeks, or every three weeks.

It can be given as neoadjuvant (before surgeryinfo-icon) treatment or as adjuvant (after surgery) treatment. An entire course of chemotherapy for breast cancer usually takes from 3 to 6 months.

In some cases your doctor may recommend a dose-dense schedule, which means medicines are given with less time between treatments than in a standard chemotherapy treatment plan. For example, a common treatment regimen is dose-dense doxorubicininfo-icon (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamideinfo-icon (Cytoxaninfo-icon) every 2 weeks for four cycles followed by paclitaxel (Taxolinfo-icon) every 2 weeks for four cycles.

For metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer, paclitaxel is usually given every 3 weeks. But it can also be given weekly in low doses, often with fewer side effects.

Side Effects and Things to Remember

Before starting paclitaxelinfo-icon, tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counterinfo-icon medicines, as well as any existing or previous health problems.

Paclitaxel can cause an allergic reaction, so your doctor may give you medicineinfo-icon beforehand to prevent it. Usually you will start taking these medicines the day before each treatment and continue for 3 days. In some cases, you get the medicines with your paclitaxel treatment instead.

Be sure to get emergency medical help if you have any signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives or red skin rash; difficulty breathing; faintness; or swelling of your face, lips, tongue or throat.

Other side effects of paclitaxel may include:

Because docetaxelinfo-icon can decrease your blood cellinfo-icon counts, called bone marrow suppression, your doctors will test your blood counts regularly. The blood cell countinfo-icon changes can include a decrease in

  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen in your body to help give you energy
  • White blood cells, which fight infectioninfo-icon in your body
  • Platelets, which help clot the blood to stop bleeding

Talk to your doctor, pharmacistinfo-icon or nurseinfo-icon about all your side effects so that they can help you manage them. You can also go to our section on Side Effects for more information.

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Article August 31, 2015
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