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. Paclitaxel is a compound that is extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree.

In December of 1992, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Taxol for treatment of ovarian cancer that had not responded to standard chemotherapy. Subsequent clinical trials demonstrated 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 within 6 months after the completion of initial chemotherapy.

Taxol is also used to treat Kaposi sarcoma, as well as cancers of the head and neck, bladder, esophagus, 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 thirty 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 considering taking Taxol should consult their physician. Everyone experiences side effects differently. Side effects of Taxol (and taxanes) may include:

  • hair loss
  • numbness, tingling, or burning of the fingers and toes (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
  • tiredness and weakness

According to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Association, the risks associated with Taxol are believed to be outweighed by the benefits for persons with advanced breast cancer.

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