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Paclitaxel (Taxol®, Abraxane®)


Brand Names: Taxol®, Abraxane®, Onxol®

Paclitaxel is used in the treatment of breast, ovarian, and lung cancer, and Kaposi’s sarcoma. It may also be used to treat esophageal, head and neck, bladder, uterine and cervical cancers.

Paclitaxel belongs to a class of drugs known as plant alkaloids. These drugs are also known as antimicrotubule agents. Microtubules are involved in cell replication. By inhibiting their function, paclitaxel helps stop or slow the growth of cancer.

This medication is given as an injection into a vein (intravenous). Usually, paclitaxel is given once every 3 weeks. The length of time needed for the injection and the duration of treatment varies depending on several factors, such as the type of cancer being treated, what other medications are involved, how well the drug is working, and how well your body is able to tolerate treatment. Your doctor will recommend the exact therapy that is best for you.

Paclitaxel side effects

To prevent problematic interactions between paclitaxel and other drugs, be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to any medications, and what other medications and supplements you are currently taking. You should also inform your doctor if you have or ever had a liver tumor, liver or kidney disease, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding.

Some formulations of paclitaxel contain alcohol. Be sure to not drive a car or operate heavy machinery after treatment until you are familiar with how the drug affects your body. Check with your doctor before receiving any vaccinations during treatment. Also, take care to wash hands thoroughly and avoid contact with people who are sick, since your ability to fight infection may be decreased during treatment with paclitaxel.

For some people, this medication can cause dizziness or lightheadedness when getting up from a lying position. Moving slowly and resting your feet on the floor for a moment before standing can help prevent these feelings.

Possible side effects may include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling where the medication was injected
  • Weakness
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss

Some of paclitaxel’s side effects can be serious. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Numbness, burning, or tingling in hands or feet
  • Pale skin
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Hardening, darkening, or peeling of skin around where the medication was injected
  • Blistering or peeling skin

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. Patients may experience additional effects not mentioned above.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), your team of cancer experts will explain each of the side effects of paclitaxel with you in detail, as well as the side effects and expectations of all other medications planned as part of your individualized treatment plan.

Paclitaxel for cancer treatment

Paclitaxel is approved by the FDA for the following cancer treatments:

  • Made with human albumin and known as nanoparticle paclitaxel under the brand name, Abraxane:
    • Treatment of metastatic breast cancer that has worsened after treatment with combination chemotherapy or has relapsed within 6 months of adjuvant chemotherapy. Previous chemotherapy should have included an anthracycline unless the patient was unable to take this medication
  • Made with castor oil:
    • In combination with cisplatin as initial treatment of advanced carcinoma of the ovary
    • As a single agent for second-line treatment of advanced carcinoma of the ovary
    • Adjuvant (post-surgical) treatment of breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes. Here, paclitaxel is given in a sequence with combination chemotherapy that includes doxuribicin
    • As a single agent for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer that has worsened after combination chemotherapy or has relapsed within 6 months of adjuvant chemotherapy. Previous chemotherapy should have included anthracycline, unless the patient was unable to take this medication
    • In combination with cisplatin for the initial treatment of non-small cell lung cancer in patients who are not candidates for curative surgery and/or radiation therapy
    • Second-line treatment of AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma

At CTCA, our integrative approach to cancer treatment works to fight your disease on all fronts and ensures that you remain at the center of everything we do. We encourage participation from both you and your family to make certain you are comfortable with all decisions made regarding your treatment.


The information provided here is for educational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Cancer Treatment Centers of America assumes no responsibility for how this material is used. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. Also note that while Cancer Treatment Centers of America frequently updates its contents, medical information changes rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.

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