Generic Name: Paclitaxel
Other Trade Name: Onxal TM

Drug Type:

What is Taxol? Taxol is an anti-cancer ("antineoplastic" or "cytotoxic") chemotherapy drug. Taxol is classified as a "plant alkaloid," a "taxane" and an "antimicrotubule agent." (For more detail, see "How Taxol Works" section below).

What Taxol Is Used For:

Note: If a drug has been approved for one use, physicians sometimes elect to use this same drug for other problems if they believe it might be helpful.

How Taxol Is Given:

Taxol Side Effects:

Important things to remember about Taxol side effects include:

The following Taxol side effects are common (occurring in greater than 30%) for patients taking Taxol:

The following are less common side effects (occurring in 10-29%) for patients receiving Taxol:

Nadir: 15-21 days

This list includes common and less common side effects for individuals taking Taxol. Side effects that are very rare, occurring in less than 10% of patients, are not listed here. However, you should always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.

When To Contact Your Doctor or Health Care Provider:

Contact your health care provider immediately, day or night, if you should experience any of the following symptoms:

The following symptoms require medical attention, but are not an emergency. Contact your health care provider within 24 hours of noticing any of the following:

Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.

Taxol Precautions:

Taxol Self Care Tips:

Monitoring and Testing While Taking Taxol:

You will be checked regularly by your health care professional while you are taking Taxol, to monitor side effects and check your response to therapy. Periodic blood work to monitor your complete blood count (CBC) as well as the function of other organs (such as your kidneys and liver) will also be ordered by your doctor.

How Taxol Works:

Cancerous tumors are characterized by cell division, which is no longer controlled as it is in normal tissue. "Normal" cells stop dividing when they come into contact with like cells, a mechanism known as contact inhibition. Cancerous cells lose this ability. Cancer cells no longer have the normal checks and balances in place that control and limit cell division. The process of cell division, whether normal or cancerous cells, is through the cell cycle. The cell cycle goes from the resting phase, through active growing phases, and then to mitosis (division).

The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt cell division. Usually, the drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in division. If the cells are unable to divide, they die. The faster the cells are dividing, the more likely it is that chemotherapy will kill the cells, causing the tumor to shrink. They also induce cell suicide (self-death or apoptosis).

Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells only when they are dividing are called cell-cycle specific. Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells when they are at rest are called cell-cycle non-specific. The scheduling of chemotherapy is set based on the type of cells, rate at which they divide, and the time at which a given drug is likely to be effective. This is why chemotherapy is typically given in cycles.

Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between the cancerous cells and the normal cells. The "normal" cells will grow back and be healthy but in the meantime, side effects occur. The "normal" cells most commonly affected by chemotherapy are the blood cells, the cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and/or hair loss. Different drugs may affect different parts of the body.

Taxol belongs to a class of chemotherapy drugs called plant alkaloids. Plant alkaloids are made from plants. The vinca alkaloids are made from the periwinkle plant (catharanthus rosea). The taxanes are made from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree (taxus). The vinca alkaloids and taxanes are also known as antimicrotubule agents. The podophyllotoxins are derived from the May Apple plant. Camptothecan analogs are derived from the Asian "Happy Tree" (Camptotheca acuminata). Podophyllotoxins and camptothecan analogs are also known as topoisomerase inhibitors. The plant alkaloids are cell-cycle specific. This means they attack the cells during various phases of division.

Antimicrotubule agents (such as Taxol), inhibit the microtubule structures within the cell. Microtubules are part of the cell's apparatus for dividing and replicating itself. Inhibition of these structures ultimately results in cell death.

Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.