Paclitaxel (Taxol)

yew bark
Harvesting bark of yew tree

Paclitaxel (US brand name: Taxol) is a chemotherapy agent extracted from Taxus brevifolia (a Pacific yew tree). It inhibits cell division by binding to tubulin and preventing the disassembly of microtubules, and it also induces cell death (apoptosis) by blocking the ability of the protein Bcl-2 to prevent apoptosis1.

Paclitaxel is administered by IV injection, generally once every three days.

What it's effective for and why

Paclitaxel is indicated for use against ovarian cancer, breast cancer, some types of lung cancer, and a cancer of the skin and mucous membranes called Kaposi's sarcoma typically found in patients with AIDS2. This agent also has a number of off-label indications, as it is sometimes used in the treatment of other cancers, including head and neck cancers, esophagus cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, and cancer of the endometrium3.

Paclitaxel side effects: Overview

Paclitaxel has been in use for almost two decades, so its safety and efficacy profiles are rather well established. The same is true for the side effects, which are in general pain or irritation at the injection site, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss and mouth sores. More serious, and more uncommon, side effects of paclitaxel include neuropathy, extreme fatigue, bruising or bleeding, chest pain, blistering skin, or an irregular heartbeat3.


  1. NCI Drug Dictionary: Paclitaxel
  2. Mayo Clinic: Paclitaxel
  3. US National Library of Medicine: Paclitaxel


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