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How It Works

Docetaxel is an intravenous (IV) medicine that is usually given in a dose based on body surface area. The type and extent of a cancer determines the exact dose and schedule for giving this drug.

Why It Is Used

Docetaxel damages structures involved in cell division, which stops the growth of cancer cells. It is used to treat breast cancer and non–small cell lung cancer. It may also be used to treat bladder, esophageal, ovarian, prostate, and stomach cancer.

How Well It Works

Docetaxel is an effective anti-tumour medicine. But the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this medicine slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Side Effects

Serious side effects are rare, but include:

  • Allergic reactions. Signs of allergic reaction can include trouble breathing; swelling or closing of the throat; swollen face, tongue, or lips; or hives. Almost all allergic reactions occur while the drug is being given.
  • Feeling extremely tired, bruising or bleeding easily, or signs of infection such as a fever or chills. These symptoms may mean that the medicine caused the numbers of your white or red blood cells or platelets to drop.
  • Severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Severe diarrhea.
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes or belly pain. This may mean the medicine has damaged your liver.
  • Swollen belly, ankles, or feet.
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy).

Less serious side effects are more common and may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Mild swelling of the hands or feet.
  • Muscle or joint aches.
  • Mouth sores (stomatitis).
  • Rash.
  • Nail changes, such as nails becoming soft and tender.
  • Hair loss. This is reversible, and hair will grow back when treatment ends.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Docetaxel should be given only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after taking this medicine. Talk with your doctor about fertility before starting treatment.

Docetaxel can cause birth defects. Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or to father a child while you are taking it.

Do not drink alcohol while you are being treated with docetaxel.

Do not use this medicine if you have:

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


Other Works Consulted

  • Abramowicz M (2003). Treatment guidelines: Drugs of choice for cancer. Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 1(7): 41–52.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Michael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
Last Revised July 19, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.