By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Docetaxel is a chemotherapy drug that is used in the treatment of 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, they can also kill off healthy cells in the body.
Uses of docetaxel
Docetaxel is well established as a chemotherapy agent in the treatment of primary breast cancer. The treatment is also used alone or as part of a combination regimen to treat secondary breast cancer, which is cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. Docetaxel is also used to treat non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck cancer, stomach cancer and prostate cancer.
Mechanism of action
Chemotherapy agents work by disrupting the growth and proliferation of cancer cells. In the case of docetaxel, the drug achieves this by preventing cell division and the multiplication of cancer cells.
Docetaxel is usually infused via a drip into a vein in the arm or hand. It is given as a one-hour infusion on three to six occasions, which are spaced three weeks apart. The three week interval between treatments helps the body to recover from the cytotoxic effects of the drug.
Some of the side effects docetaxel treatment can cause include:
Anemia (low red blood cell count)
Alopecia (hair loss)
Peripheral neuropathy (tingling and numbness in the hands and feet)
Nausea and vomiting
Muscle and joint pain
Water retention and weight gain
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2014