Paclitaxel (Generic Name)

Other Names: Taxol®

About This Drug

Paclitaxel is a drug used to treat cancer. It stops cancer cells so that they are unable to grow, function, or reproduce. This drug is given intravenously (IV).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • Allergic reactions to this drug occur in some patients. They usually happen very soon after the intravenous drug is given. You will be given medication before you receive paclitaxel to help prevent allergic reactions. Signs of allergic reaction are rash or itching, dizziness or lightheadedness, palpitations, and shortness of breath. 
  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Bone marrow depression usually occurs seven to 10 days after the drug is given and may increase your risk of infection, fatigue, and bleeding.
  • Effects on the nerves called peripheral neuropathy. You may feel numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. It may be difficult for you to button your clothes, open jars, or walk normally. The effect on the nerves may get worse with additional doses of the drug. These effects get better in some people after the drug is stopped but it may not get better in some people.
  • Hair loss is usually complete scalp hair loss and can include loss of eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair. You may notice this a few days or weeks after treatment has begun. Usually hair loss is temporary; your hair should grow back when treatment is completed.
  • Soreness of the mouth and throat. You may have red areas, white patches, or sores.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea that may last for several days
  • Rash
  • Edema which is swelling, most often in your arms, hands, legs or feet
  • Skin and tissue irritation may include redness, pain, warmth, or swelling at the IV site. This occurs if the drug leaks out of the vein and into surrounding tissue.

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue
  • Lowered pulse during the time you receive this drug. This is usually not noticed and requires no special precautions. Your pulse will be checked while you receive the drug.
  • Nail problems: discoloration, thinning, brittleness, or loss of the nail

Sexual Problems and Reproductive Concerns

In men and women both, this drug may temporarily or permanently affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your therapy. In men, this drug may interfere with your ability to make sperm, but it should not change your ability to have sexual relations. In women, menstrual bleeding may become irregular or stop while you are taking this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period. Women may experience signs of menopause like vaginal dryness or itching.

    • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
    • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking. 
    • Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effect of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, a genetic counselor can review the potential risks of problems in the fetus due to this medication if an exposure during pregnancy has occurred.  
    • Breast feeding warning:  It is not known if this drug passes into breast milk.  For this reason, women are advised to discuss with their doctor the risks and benefits of breast feeding during treatment with this drug because this drug may enter the breast milk and seriously harm a breast feeding infant.
    • Vaginal lubricants can be used to lessen vaginal dryness, itching, and pain during sexual relations. 

Treating Side Effects

  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids every day unless your doctor has told you to restrict your fluid intake due to another medical condition. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you vomit or have diarrhea, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated.
  • Speak with your nurse about obtaining a wig before you lose your hair.  Also, call the American Cancer Society at  800-ACS-2345 to find out information  about the “ Look Good...Feel Better” program close to where you live. It is a free program where women undergoing chemotherapy learn about wigs, turbans and scarves as well as makeup techniques and  skin and nail care.
  • Take prescribed medications to help relieve diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, joint and muscle pain.
  • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor for medication if your rash is bothersome.
  • Be careful when cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects and hot liquids.
  • Mouth care is very important. Your mouth care should consist of gently brushing with a very soft tooth brush and rinsing your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after every meal and at bedtime. Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Avoid alcohol and smoking because they can irritate your mouth and throat.     

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of paclitaxel of with food. This drug may interact with other medication. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medication and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor's advice.

While you are receiving this drug by IV, tell your nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Rash or itching
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness, pain, warmth, or swelling at the IV site during the infusion
  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than twice in one day
  • Diarrhea of four stools in a day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of your arms, hands, legs or feet
  • Rash

 

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Signs of peripheral neuropathy: numbness, tingling, or decreased sensation in fingers or toes; difficulty walking or changes in the way you walk; or clumsiness in buttoning clothes, opening jars, or other routine activities
  • Joint and muscle pain unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Painful mouth or throat that makes it difficult to eat or drink
  • Nausea, vomiting, or headache unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Persistent loss of appetite or rapid weight loss of five pounds in one week
  • Extreme fatigue that interferes with normal activities

Revised January 2011 

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