Paclitaxel (Generic Name)

Other Names: Taxol®

About This Drug

Paclitaxel is a drug used to treat cancer. This drug is given in the vein (IV).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • Allergic reactions to this drug may happen in some patients. They often happen very soon after the IV drug is given. You will be given medicine before you get paclitaxel to help prevent allergic reactions. Signs of allergic reactions to this drug may be swelling of the face, feeling like your tongue or throat are swelling, trouble breathing,  rash, itching, fever, chills, feeling dizzy, and/or feeling that your heart is beating in a fast or not normal way.
  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may raise your risk of infection, make you tired and weak (fatigue), and raise your risk of bleeding.
  • Effects on the nerves are called peripheral neuropathy. You may feel numbness, tingling, or pain in your hands and feet. It may be hard for you to button your clothes, open jars, or walk as usual. The effect on the nerves may get worse with more doses of the drug. These effects get better in some people after the drug is stopped but it does not get better in all people.
  • Hair loss: Hair loss is often complete scalp hair loss and can involve loss of eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair. You may notice this a few days or weeks after treatment has started. Most often hair loss is temporary; your hair should grow back when treatment is done.

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Nausea and throwing up (vomiting). These symptoms may happen within a few hours after your treatment and may last up to 24 hours. Medicines are available to stop or lessen these side effects.
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue (low energy, feeling weak)
  • Nail problems: changes in color, thinning, brittleness, or loss of the nail
  • Skin and tissue irritation may include redness, pain, warmth, or swelling at the IV site. This happens if the drug leaks out of the vein and into nearby tissue.

Infusion Reactions

While you are getting this drug in your vein, you may have a reaction.  Your nurse will check you closely for the following signs: fever or shaking chills, flushing, facial swelling, feeling dizzy, headache, trouble breathing, rash, itching, chest tightness, or chest pain. 

Treating Side Effects

  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids each day unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake due to some other health problem. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you throw up or have loose bowel movements, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated (lack water in the body from losing too much fluid).
  • Talk with your nurse about getting a wig before you lose your hair. 
  • Talk with your doctor about medicines to help relieve, nausea, throwing up, joint and muscle pain. Take medicines as ordered by your doctor.
  • If you get a rash, do not put anything on it 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 bothers you.
  • Be careful when cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects and hot liquids.   

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of paclitaxel of with food. This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are taking at this time. The safety and use of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often not known. Using these might 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 help. 

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Redness, pain, warmth, or swelling at the IV site during the infusion
  • Fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • 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 feeling in fingers or toes; trouble walking or changes in the way you walk; or feeling clumsy when buttoning clothes, opening jars, or other routine activities
  • Joint and muscle pain that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Nausea, throwing up, or headache that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Extreme fatigue that interferes with normal activities

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • Infertility warning: Sexual problems and reproduction concerns may happen. In both men and women, this drug may affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your treatment. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking. 
    • 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 getting this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period.
    • Women may go through signs of menopause (change of life) like vaginal dryness or itching. Vaginal lubricants can be used to lessen vaginal dryness, itching, and pain during sexual relations. 
    • Genetic counseling is available for you to talk about the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. Also, a genetic counselor can look at the possible risk of problems in the unborn baby due to this medicine if an exposure happens during pregnancy.
  • 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.
  • Breast feeding warning: Women should not breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and badly harm a breast feeding baby.

Revised July 2014

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