Find out about the side effects of the chemotherapy drug docetaxel.
Docetaxel works by stopping the cancer cells from separating into 2 new cells, so it blocks the growth of cancer.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects so they can help you manage them. Your nurse will give you a contact number to ring if you have any questions or problems. If in doubt, call them.
Common side effects
Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 10 people (10%). You might have one or more of them.
Signs of an infection include headaches, aching muscles, a cough, a sore throat, pain passing urine, or feeling cold and shivery.
Chemotherapy reduces the number of white blood cells in the blood. This increases your risk of infections. White blood cells help fight infections.
When the level is very low it is called neutropenia (pronounced new-troh-pee-nee-ah).
You have antibiotics if you develop an infection. You might have them as tablets or as injections into the bloodstream (intravenously). To have them into your bloodstream you need to go into hospital.
Chemotherapy makes the level of red blood cells fall (anaemia). Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. When the level of red blood cells is low you have less oxygen going to your cells. This can make you breathless and look pale. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel breathless.
You have regular blood tests to check your red blood cell levels. You might need a blood transfusion if the level is very low. After a transfusion, you will be less breathless and less pale.
You can also feel tired and depressed when your blood count is low and feel better once it is back to normal. The levels can rise and fall during your treatment. So it can feel like you are on an emotional and physical roller coaster.
You might feel very tired during your treatment. It might take 6 months to a year for your energy levels to get back to normal after the treatment ends. A low red blood cell count will also make you feel tired.
You can do things to help yourself, including some gentle exercise. It’s important not to push yourself too hard. Try to eat a well balanced diet.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are finding the tiredness difficult to manage.
You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. It usually starts gradually within 2 to 3 weeks after treatment begins.
Your hair will grow back once your chemotherapy treatment has finished. This can take several months and your hair is likely to be softer. It can also grow back a different colour or be curlier than before.
- Ask about getting a wig before you start treatment so you can match the colour and texture of your real hair.
- You could choose a wig for a whole new look.
- Think about having your hair cut short before your treatment starts.
- Some people shave their hair off completely so they don't have to cope with their hair falling out.
- Wear a hairnet at night so you won't wake up with hair all over your pillow.
This affects 8 out of 10 (80%) people treated.
A rash can also be itchy. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have a skin rash. They can prescribe medicine to stop the itching and soothe your skin.
This occurs in about 5 out of 10 (50%) people.
You may have swelling in the face, hands and feet. As well as breathlessness and weight gain. The steroids you have with the drug can help to prevent this effect.
This occurs in 5 out of 10 (50%) people.
You may have discoloured fingernails but they will go back to normal a few months after the treatment ends.
The skin on your hands and feet may become sore, red, or may peel. You may also have tingling, numbness, pain and dryness. This is called hand-foot syndrome or palmar plantar syndrome. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens.
- Keep your hands and feet cool.
- Avoid very hot water.
- Don't wear tight fitting gloves or socks.
- Moisturise your skin with non perfumed creams.
- Take vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), which your doctor or nurse can prescribe.
Your mouth might get sore. It may be painful to swallow drinks or food. You will have mouth washes to keep your mouth healthy.
You can have painkillers to reduce the soreness. Take them half an hour before meals to make eating easier.
This affects about 4 out of every 10 (40%) people.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diarrhoea. They can prescribe medicine to help you.
Drink at least 2.5 litres of fluid a day. This helps to keep you hydrated.
Ask your nurse about soothing creams to apply around your back passage (rectum). The skin in that area can get very sore and even break if you have severe diarrhoea.
This occurs in about 4 out of every 10 (40%) people.
Numbness or tingling in fingers and toes can make it difficult to do fiddly things such as doing up buttons. This starts within a few days or weeks and can last for a few months. Rarely, the numbness may be permanent.
- Keep your hands and feet warm.
- Wear well fitting, protective shoes.
- Take care when using hot water as you may not be able to feel how hot it is and could burn yourself.
- Use oven gloves when cooking and protective gloves when gardening.
- Moisturise your skin at least a couple of times a day.
- Take care when cutting your nails.
A small number of people have an allergic reaction, usually during the first or second treatment.
Symptoms include a skin rash, itching, feeling hot and shivering. Other symptoms include redness of the face, dizziness, a headache, shortness of breath and anxiety.
Your nurse will keep a close eye on you and give you treatment straight away if this happens. They might slow your drip down.
An allergic reaction occurs during the infusion in more than 2 out of 10 (20%) people.
Occasional side effects
Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them.
You might feel sick or be sick. Anti sickness injections and tablets can control it. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel sick. You might need to try different anti sickness medicines to find one that works.
- Avoid eating or preparing food when you feel sick.
- Avoid hot fried foods, fatty foods or foods with a strong smell.
- Eat several small meals and snacks each day.
- Relaxation techniques help control sickness for some people.
- Ginger can help – try it as crystallised stem ginger, ginger tea or ginger ale.
- Try fizzy drinks.
- Sip high calorie drinks if you can’t eat.
Tell your nurse straight away if you notice any signs of redness, swelling or leaking at your drip site.
You might feel some pain from your muscles and joints. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what painkillers you can take to help with this.
If you get a high temperature, let your doctor or nurse know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you’re breathless or have a cough. This could be due to an infection, such as pneumonia. Or it could be caused by changes to the lung tissue, making it less flexible.
Docetaxel can make fluid to build up at the back of the eye (called cystoid macular oedema). If you have blurred vision or a black area in the middle of your vision, let your doctor or nurse know.
Women might stop having periods (amenorrhoea) but this may be temporary.
The changes are usually very mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They will almost certainly go back to normal when treatment is finished.
You have regular blood tests throughout your treatment so your doctor can check this.
You might notice you:
- bruise more easily
- have nosebleeds
- have bleeding gums when you brush your teeth
This is due to a drop in the number of platelets that help clot your blood.
If your platelets get very low you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs called petechiae.
You'll have a platelet transfusion if your platelet count is very low. It is a drip of a clear fluid containing platelets. It takes about 15 to 30 minutes. The new platelets start to work right away.
More information about this treatment
We haven't listed all the very rare side effects of this treatment. For further information see the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.
You can report any side effect you have that isn’t listed here to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.