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Tests and Procedures - About Taxol

What is Taxol?

Taxol, or paclitaxel, is a drug used for treating certain women who have advanced breast or ovarian cancer. It is also used to treat other kinds of cancers. Paclitaxel is a compound that is extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree.

In December of 1992, the FDA approved Taxol for treatment of ovarian cancer that had not responded to standard chemotherapy. Later clinical trials showed that Taxol was also effective in treating advanced breast cancer. In April of 1994, the FDA approved Taxol for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer that did not respond to combination chemotherapy, or breast cancer that had recurred (come back) within six months after the completion of initial chemotherapy.

Taxol has also been approved for adjuvant treatment of breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes when given following a doxorubicin chemotherapy regimen.

Taxol is used to treat Kaposi sarcoma, too, as well as cancers of the head and neck, bladder, esophagus, lung, cervix, and endometrium.

Taxol is given as an infusion drip into the vein.

What are taxanes?

Taxanes are a group of medications commonly used to treat breast cancer. Taxol is a taxane. Other taxanes include docetaxel (Taxotere) and paclitaxel (Abraxane).

Taxotere has been approved for treatment of locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer. Abraxane is approved for use in advanced or recurrent breast cancer. Abraxane is a new formulation of paclitaxel that can be given over 30 minutes as opposed to three hours for Taxol and there is less likelihood of an adverse reaction to the drug.

What are possible side effects of Taxol?

Women who have the option of taking Taxol should talk to their physician about the possible side effects, risks and benefits. Everyone experiences side effects differently. Side effects of Taxol (and taxanes) may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning of the fingers and toes, which is called peripheral neuropathy
  • Neutropenia. A decrease in white blood cells which may increase the risk of infections.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Mouth sores
  • Aching or pain in joints and muscles
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tiredness and weakness

Talk to your doctor about what you should watch for and any side effects you notice. There are often things that can be done to control or reduce side effects.

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