Docetaxel (Taxotere) is a type of human-made taxane chemotherapy medicine. It was first made from yew tree needles. Docetaxel is used with other medicines to treat some types of breast cancer.


How docetaxel works

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


Who gets docetaxel

Docetaxel may be used in chemotherapy treatment regimens for most types of invasive breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer. It can be used with targeted therapy, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), in treating HER2-positive breast cancers.

It can also be given with the chemotherapy medicines doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) after surgery as adjuvant treatment or as neoadjuvant (before surgery) treatment for breast cancers that require chemotherapy.

Docetaxel is sometimes given alone for metastatic breast cancer.


How docetaxel is given

Docetaxel is often given in combination to help treat breast cancer and prevent recurrence. Combinations include:

Docetaxel is given by vein, usually in several cycles, with a day (or days) of treatment followed by a period of “off” days. The exact schedule depends on the dose and combination of medicines.

For treatment of early-stage breast cancer that requires chemotherapy after surgery, docetaxel is usually given with other medicines every 3 weeks for six cycles.

In locally advanced and metastatic breast cancer, docetaxel is usually given every 3 weeks. But it can also be given in low doses weekly, often with fewer side effects. It may be given as long as it keeps the cancer from growing.


Side effects and things to remember

Docetaxel 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 docetaxel 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 docetaxel may include:

Because docetaxel can decrease your blood cell counts, called bone marrow suppression, your doctors will test your blood counts regularly. The blood cell count 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 infection in your body
  • Platelets, which help clot the blood to stop bleeding

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse 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.

Before starting docetaxel, 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.


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Reviewed and updated: August 31, 2015

Reviewed by: Laura M. Spring, MD


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