By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Docetaxel is a chemotherapy drug that is used to treat several types of cancer. Chemotherapy treatments are also referred to as cytotoxic drugs, which means they are toxic and damaging to cells.
Although these drugs are used to kill cancerous cells, the drugs can also kill off healthy cells in the body. Examples of healthy tissues that are affected by these drugs include the bone marrow, hair follicles and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
Some of the common side effects of docetaxel therapy include:
Docetaxel can lead to a drop in red blood cell number and anemia. As red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen around the body, a reduced red blood cell count can cause shortness of breath and fatigue.
Individuals who receive docetaxel treatment usually lose the hair on their head and are also at risk of losing their eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair. Hair loss may occur after one or two cycles of chemotherapy and hair usually begins to regrow once the treatment is finished.
A tingling or numb sensation in the hands and feet, termed peripheral neuropathy, can also occur as a side effect of docetaxel treatment. This effect on the nerves can make it difficult for a patient to complete fiddly tasks such as tying laces or fastening buttons. The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy usually begin to slowly fade after treatment is complete.
Docetaxel therapy can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which may cause diarrhea.
Muscles and joint pain
The muscles and joints may be painful two to three days after chemotherapy, which may be soothed by taking warm baths.
Water retention and weight gain
Patients taking docetaxel may notice their ankles and legs seem heavy and swollen due to a build-up of fluid in these areas. This can be prevented with the use of a steroid, which the doctor may prescribe. The swelling resolves after chemotherapy is complete.
Tiredness is a common effect of docetaxel therapy and can last for some weeks after treatment has ended. Gentle exercise and plenty of rest can help combat the fatigue that develops as a result of docetaxel therapy.
Altered taste sensation
A bitter or metallic taste in the mouth is a common side effect of docetaxel treatment. Food may also taste different to how it normally tastes. These changes usually resolve after treatment has finished.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Apr 28, 2014