What is Paclitaxel?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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Paclitaxel or Taxol® is a chemotherapy medicine limited to treatment of a few cancers, principally those involving the breast, reproductive tract, or some type of cancers resulting from AIDs. The drug was first isolated from a compound in the Pacific yew tree and can also be found in hazelnut trees. It is considered very effective because of its dual mechanisms. It arrests the process of cell disassembling in cell structures called microtubules, meaning cancer cells are less likely to divide and spread. Taxol® also reduces cancer cells by signaling them to undergo apoptosis, which is a form of cell suicide.

Paclitaxel is administered through an intravenous (IV) drip and it may be given concurrently with other chemotherapy medicines that have a different action. Some medications have to be given before each IV administration of paclitaxel, including antihistamines and steroids to prevent severe allergy.

Certain contraindications exist when paclitaxel is considered. Those with severely suppressed immune systems and low white blood cell counts may not be good candidates for this drug. Cancer sufferers who have strong liver impairment may need to take a different medication. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not receive this medicine.


Paclitaxel also interacts with many different drugs. There are many of them and the list includes some of the common antibiotics and anti-seizure medicines such as carbamazepine and phenobarbital. While using such medicines doesn’t automatically contraindicate Taxol®, dosages of either Taxol® or the medicines with which it interacts may need adjustment.

Like many drugs used in chemotherapy, paclitaxel has a long list of uncomfortable side effects. These include mouth sores, diarrhea and vomiting, and hair loss. Some patients who undergo therapy with this drug also have low blood pressure, benign changes in heart rhythm, slowed heart rate, reduced immunity, and anemia. More severe side effects of paclitaxel need immediate medical attention. Some of these are developing flu symptoms of any kind, have vomiting or diarrhea that is severe and chronic, noting very high blood pressure, and having blood in the stool or vomiting blood.

Taxol® may also create severe allergic reaction, despite pre-medication. This would usually be noted shortly after people begin having a treatment. Sometimes it might not manifest until after a treatment is ended. Patients should get immediate medical treatment if they develop hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face.

Chemotherapy is always a mixed blessing. Drugs like paclitaxel vigorously attack cancer cells, but they attack healthy cells too, though usually with less vigor. Dosage, supportive care to minimize side effects, and careful analysis of effectiveness are all required when Taxol® is used. Benefit of these drugs to fight diseases that may otherwise be fatal outweighs both discomfort and risk, though understanding risk and finding support treatments to reduce discomfort are vital.



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