Docetaxel for breast cancer proved effective for some patients in a clinical study conducted by several medical research organizations. It extended life expectancy and delayed the re-occurrence of cancer cells when administered every three weeks. Another form of the drug also proved effective in some women when given weekly. The research concluded that dosage frequency and the form of the drug used deserves more study.
A total of 4,950 women diagnosed with breast cancer participated in the study. They all exhibited cancer defined by a very large tumor or abnormal cells that had spread to lymph nodes in the armpits. All participants underwent surgery, and some also received radiation treatment. The research followed these patients for at least five years after traditional breast cancer therapy.
Docetaxel represents one of the drugs in the taxoid family; another is paclitaxel. Both medications come from needles of the yew tree and are given intravenously to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Docetaxel for breast cancer typically includes injections every three weeks. Patients commonly receive paclitaxel once a week.
The research looked at patients receiving both forms of the drug weekly and at three-week intervals. Survival rates improved for all groups participating in the study, but side effects differed by patient. Patients using docetaxel for breast cancer showed increased risk of infection from low white cell blood counts. Those using paclitaxel suffered more pain, numbness, and other side effects linked to the medication. This form of the drug given weekly proved most effective during the early stages of breast cancer when used with chemotherapy.
Docetaxel for breast cancer might be more effective after surgery in women who experience troublesome side effects from other taxoid drugs. Doctors commonly test white blood cell counts frequently when docetaxel for breast cancer is used. White blood cells help the body fight infection and represent an important function of the body’s immune system.
Other side effects of docetaxel for breast cancer include fluid retention that might cause swelling of the hands and feet. Patients using docetaxel are usually also prescribed a drug to address this side effect and prevent fluid from collecting near the heart, stomach, and lungs. Some patients develop an allergic reaction to the injections, marked by a rash that itches and could cause numbness or tingling in the extremities.
The most common side effect of these drugs appears as hair loss. Women using docetaxel for breast cancer typically lose hair over their entire bodies, including eyelashes and eyebrows. Once treatment is complete, the hair usually grows back. Some women report fingernails and toenails become thin and discolored, and might fall off. These side effects also typically resolve when treatment stops.