Taxol (Paclitaxel) is a taxane and it is one of three commonly used medicines in chemo treatments for breast cancer. Taxol actually comes from a tree, the Pacific Yew, which is very slow growing and quite uncommon. Taxol works within the cancer cells by “confusing” the process of cell division (scientific term- it is a mitotic inhibitor) thereby stopping the cancer from spreading.
Like other chemo drugs, it targets rapidly growing cells, which includes not just cancer cells, but also hair follicles, intestinal cells, bone marrow cells (where red and white blood cells are produced). It doesn’t just kill all of those types of cells- it actually kills any cells that are in the process of cell division. Not all cells in your body are dividing at any one time. But faster growing tissue have a greater proportion of their cells in the stage of cell division than slower growing tissue. So the chemo med comes in and kills off the ones that are trying to divide, both cancer cells and normal cells. Your body can easily replace the normal cells that died from the chemo, but the cancer cells cannot regrow.
The next dose of chemo then kills another bunch of dividing cells, and again the number of cancer cells in your body are reduced. Over time, the treatments kill off more and more cancer cells. Your normal body cells recover over time, but the cancer cells can’t. The goal of chemo, of course, is to kill all the cancer cells, but in my case, since I am having neo-adjuvent chemo (chemo prior to surgery), there will likely still be a lump left in my breast that they will then remove during surgery. The hope is that the chemo shrunk the cancer small enough that the surgeon can remove all of the remaining cancer with clean margins (i.e. they take just enough healthy tissue around the cancer to ensure they did get all of the cancer) and that the chemo killed any “floating” cells of cancer that may have broken loose from the lump and are floating around trying to start a new lump elsewhere.
Taxol side effects are pretty similar to other chemo meds- although the nausea is much less, there is still hair loss, GI issues, low immunity, fatigue and weakness. Then there are added ones that the other meds don’t cause: nerve issues- like shooting spasms of joint pain, tingling and numbness (called peripheral neuropathy, which is sometimes permanent 😦 ). I had those things but luckily it went away after 5-6 days. Some unlucky people (like the lady I sat next to- see People of Chemo – Part 2) have hypersensitivity to Taxol resulting in things like flushing, heart rate issues, increased blood pressure, etc. They give you a high dose of benadryl and steroids before giving you the Taxol to try to prevent these reactions.
I just had my 3rd Taxol treatment yesterday. Starting already to have a sluggish GI with a little queasiness. Today I had my neulasta shot (to boost blood cell growth) so I expect the flu-like pain to start this evening 😦 Tomorrow the joint pain will begin. I did learn after my last treatment that if I keep moving, pain or not, it seems to be more manageable. The hot tub is a good pain reliever as well. 🙂
The good news is that I have only one more chemo after this! I already have my post-chemo mammogram and my pre-surgery appointment with my surgeon scheduled. One more step forward 🙂