Paclitaxel may be used in chemotherapy treatment regimens for most types of invasive breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer. It can also be used with targeted therapy, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), to treat HER2-positive breast cancers.
Sometimes paclitaxel is given alone as a treatment in metastatic breast cancer.
Although it can be given alone, paclitaxel is usually given with other chemotherapy medicines in early-stage breast cancers that require chemotherapy. A common combination in breast cancer is AC-T (Adriamycin and Cytoxan, followed by Taxol).
Paclitaxel is given by vein. 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 regimen and dose used. It is often given weekly, every two weeks, or every three weeks.
It can be given as neoadjuvant (before surgery) 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 doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) every 2 weeks for four cycles followed by paclitaxel (Taxol) every 2 weeks for four cycles.
For metastatic breast cancer, paclitaxel is usually given every 3 weeks. But it can also be given weekly in low doses, often with fewer side effects.
Before starting paclitaxel, tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter medicines, as well as any existing or previous health problems.
Paclitaxel can cause an allergic reaction, so your doctor may give you medicine 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:
- Hair loss
- Menopausal symptoms
- Mouth sores
- Neuropathy (numbness or tingling in the hands and feet)
- Neutropenia (low level of a type of white blood cell)
- Weakness and fatigue
- Bone pain or muscle pain
- Red blood cells, which carry oxygen in your body to help give you energy
- White blood cells, which fight infection in your body
- Platelets, which help clot the blood to stop bleeding