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Docetaxel is an anti-mitotic chemotherapy medication used in the treatment of several types of cancer, including breast, ovarian and lung cancer. This medication is not a first-line cancer treatment but is recommended for people who have not responded well to certain other types of chemotherapy. Docetaxel is available under the trade name of Taxotere&ref;.
This medication works by interfering with the process of cellular division, which is called mitosis. It does so by binding with high affinity to cellular structures called microtubules. These are essential parts of mitosis, and the binding action prevents microtubules from playing their normal role in organizing cell division. In addition, microtubules accumulate in the cell, initiating a sequence of events that lead to apoptosis, or cell death.
Docetaxel is used to treat many types of cancer, but only in cases where previous treatment with anthracycline-based chemotherapy has failed. Anthracyclines include medications such as daunorubicin and doxorubicin, which kill cancer cells via a different mechanism. If these medications fail to treat cancers such as those of the breasts, ovaries and lungs, docetaxel might be used as an alternative.
Treatment with this chemotherapeutic agent can cause a range of common and uncommon side effects. The most common side effects include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, hair loss, increased vulnerability to infection, fatigue, soreness of the hands and feet, joint or muscle pain and low red blood cell count. Many of these side effects develop because the drug is particularly potent in rapidly dividing cells. Cancer cells divide rapidly, as do many of the body’s own cell types, including hair follicles, immune cells, certain cells of the gastrointestinal tract and some types of skin cells.
Docetaxel also can cause a nail condition called exudative hyponychial dermatitis, which causes cracked nails and pain in the beds of the nails. The effects of this condition can be prevented or reduced in severity if the hands and feet are kept cold with the application of ice packs or similar devices during chemotherapy sessions. In addition, this treatment can cause temporary peripheral neuropathy. This condition is the result of minor nerve damage, and it causes tingling and numbness in the feet or hands. For most people, this condition will improve after chemotherapy treatment is over.
There also is a rare but potentially serious risk of blood clots developing. Symptoms such as breathlessness and chest pain, or a swollen, reddened and painful leg, can indicate the development of a blood clot. Any such symptoms should be reported to a doctor or other healthcare worker as soon as possible so that treatment can be given.