Docetaxel is a type of chemotherapy. It is a treatment for a number of different types of cancer.
How it works
Chemotherapy works by destroying quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.
How you have docetaxel
You have docetaxel as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously).
Drugs into your bloodstream
You might have the treatment through a drip into your arm. Your nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.
Or you might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in the whole time you are having treatment.
When you have docetaxel
Each treatment takes about an hour and you have it once every 3 weeks.
Preventing allergic reactions
Docetaxel can cause an allergic reaction. To try to prevent this, your doctor or nurse give you steroid tablets to take. You usually take them for 3 days, starting the day before each treatment.
You can take steroids just a few hours before your treatment if you have prostate cancer. Your doctor can tell you how often you should take the steroids.
You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.
How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having.
When to contact your team
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:
- you have severe side effects
- your side effects aren’t getting any better
- your side effects are getting worse
Early treatment can help manage side effects better.
We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.
Common side effects
These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
Risk of infection
Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.
Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection.
Breathlessness and looking pale
You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.
You may have shortness of breath for other reasons. Tell your doctor if you feel short of breath.
Bruising, bleeding or nosebleeds
This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).
A reaction may happen during the infusion. Symptoms can include a skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face or throat, breathing difficulties, fever and chills. Your nurse will give you medicines beforehand to try to prevent a reaction.
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons whilst having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. Your hair will usually grow back once treatment has finished but it is likely to be softer. It may grow back a different colour or be curlier than before.
Feeling or being sick
Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.
It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.
Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid. Or if it carries on for more than 3 days.
Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty to replace the fluid lost.
Mouth sores and ulcers
Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. It helps to keep your mouth and teeth clean, drink plenty of fluids, avoid acidic foods such as lemons. Chewing gum can help to keep the mouth moist. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.
Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes (peripheral neuropathy)
Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your healthcare team if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons.
During treatment your nails may change colour. This gradually goes after treatment as your nails grow.
Your nail might separate from the nail bed and look white or yellow. The nail may eventually fall off but usually grows back.
Soreness, redness, peeling on palms or soles of the feet (hand foot syndrome)
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.
Moisturise your skin regularly. Your healthcare team will tell you what moisturiser to use.
You may also get a rash on your arms, face or chest.
You might have muscle pain during treatment. Let your treatment team know so they can advise you on how to reduce it.
You may get pain in other areas of the body, such as the bones and less commonly your joints.
Lack of energy and strength
This is usually mild. You can do things to help yourself, including some gentle exercise. It’s important not to push yourself too hard and eat a well balanced diet.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if this effect is stopping you from doing your usual daily activities.
Fluid build up
A build up of fluid may cause swelling in your arms, hands, ankles, legs, face and other parts of the body. Contact your healthcare team if this happens to you.
Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually returns to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.
Occasional side effects
These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- constipation - drink plenty and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Your nurse can give you laxatives to help if needed
- tummy (abdominal pain) – tell your doctor or nurse if you have any pain or tenderness
- changes to your blood pressure - tell your nurse if you feel dizzy, faint, or if you have headaches, nosebleeds, blurred or double vision, or shortness of breath
- pain, swelling or redness around the site of the infusion – tell your nurse straight away if have any of these signs
- changes to your liver – these don’t usually cause symptoms but are picked up on blood tests. These usually go back to normal after treatment has finished
- irregular heart rhythm – you have tests to check for any changes
Rare side effects
These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- heart failure
- inflammation of the food pipe (oesophagus) - symptoms include heartburn and pain when swallowing
Coping with side effects
We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.
What else do I need to know?
Other medicines, foods and drink
Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.
Docetaxel contains alcohol. Discuss with your doctor if there is any reason you shouldn’t take this. It may affect your ability to drive or use machines.
Loss of fertility
You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.
Men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.
Contraception and pregnancy
This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment.
Women must use reliable contraception during treatment. Men must use reliable contraception during treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment. Let them know straight away if you or your partner falls pregnant.
Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through into your breast milk.
Treatment for other conditions
Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.
Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.
In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.
You can have:
- other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment
Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your
Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine. Sometimes people who have had the live shingles vaccine can get a shingles type rash. If this happens they should keep the area covered.
If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.
Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.
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.
This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.