Capecitabine and docetaxel (Taxotere ®) chemotherapy
Capecitabine and docetaxel is a chemotherapy treatment used to treat breast cancer.
This information should ideally be read with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.
How capecitabine and docetaxel is givenBack to top
You will usually have capecitabine and docetaxel in the chemotherapy day unit. During treatment, you will usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse. This is who we mean when we mention doctor or nurse in this information.
Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or a person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that it is okay for you to have chemotherapy.
You will also see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are alright on the day of your treatment, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.
Your nurse will give you anti-sickness drugs. Sometimes they will also give you a steroid as an injection into a vein. They will give you these drugs and the docetaxel through one of the following:
- a short, thin tube (cannula) that the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand
- a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a nearby vein (central line)
- a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line).
Your nurse will give you docetaxel as a drip (infusion) into your cannula or line. It takes about an hour. They usually run the drip through a pump, which gives you the treatment over a set time.
You will be given capecitabine tablets to take at home.
When the chemotherapy is being given
Some people might have side effects while they are having the chemotherapy.
Docetaxel may cause an allergic reaction while it’s being given. Your nurse will check you for this. If you have a reaction, they will treat it quickly. Signs of a reaction can include:
- a rash
- feeling itchy, flushed or short of breath
- swelling of your face or lips
- feeling dizzy
- having pain in your tummy, back or chest
- feeling unwell.
If you have any of these symptoms, tell your nurse straight away.
You may be given steroid tablets to take the day before your chemotherapy and for two days after. These help prevent an allergic reaction to docetaxel. They also help to reduce some other side effects, such as sickness and fluid retention. It is very important to take these tablets. If for some reason you haven't taken them, let your doctor or nurse know before you start your chemotherapy.
Pain along the vein
If you have pain along the vein, tell your nurse straight away. They will check your drip site and slow the drip to ease the pain.
Taking your capecitabine tablets
Before you leave hospital, the nurse or pharmacist will give you capecitabine tablets to take at home. Always take your tablets exactly as explained. This is important, to make sure they work as well as possible for you.
You will take capecitabine tablets twice a day. Swallow them whole with a glass of water within half an hour of eating a meal. Capecitabine works best if it's broken down in the stomach with food. Take the tablets in the morning after breakfast, and then after your evening meal. Make sure the doses are 12 hours apart.
If you find it difficult to swallow the tablets, tell your doctor. They may suggest that you dissolve the capecitabine tablets in water. In this case, dissolve the tablets in a 200ml glass of warm water, stir with a spoon until the tablets are completely dissolved and drink it immediately. The glass and spoon should be washed and kept separate from your other crockery and cooking utensils.
If you are sick just after taking the tablets, contact the hospital. You may need to take another dose. If you forget to take a tablet, do not take a double dose. Keep to your regular schedule and let your doctor or nurse know.
Other things to remember about your tablets:
- Keep them in the original package, at room temperature, and away from heat or direct sunlight.
- Keep them safe and out of children’s reach.
- If your treatment is stopped, return any remaining tablets to the pharmacist.
Your course of capecitabine and docetaxel
You will have chemotherapy as a course of several sessions (cycles) of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of capecitabine and docetaxel takes 21 days (three weeks).
On the first day, you will have docetaxel. You will also start taking a two-week course of capecitabine tablets. When you have finished taking these tablets, you will have no treatment for a week.
At the end of the 21 days, you will start your second cycle of capecitabine and docetaxel. This will be exactly the same as the first cycle. You may have up to six cycles. Your doctor or nurse will tell you the number of cycles you are likely to have.
Before you go home, the nurse or pharmacist will also give you anti-sickness drugs to take at home. They may also give you anti-diarrhoea tablets if you need them. Take all your tablets exactly as explained to you.
Possible side effects of capecitabine and docetaxelBack to top
We explain the most common side effects of capecitabine and docetaxel here. But we don’t include all the rare ones that are unlikely to affect you.
You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are very unlikely to get all of them. If you are having other chemotherapy drugs as well, you may have some side effects that we don’t list here. Always tell your doctor or nurse about the side effects you have.
Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help control some side effects. It is very important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist has explained. This means they will be more likely to work better for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, the side effects will start to improve.
Serious and life-threatening side effects
Sometimes cancer drugs can result in very serious side effects, which rarely may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor and nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.
Contact the hospital
Your nurse will give you a telephone number for the hospital. You can call them if you feel unwell or need advice at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
More information about these drugs
We are unable to list every side effect for this treatment here, particularly the rarer ones. For more detailed information, you can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC).
Risk of infection
Chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. This will make you more likely to get an infection. When the number of white blood cells is low it’s called neutropenia.
Contact the hospital straight away on the number you’ve been given if:
- your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5°F) or over 38°C (100.4°F), depending on the advice given by your chemotherapy team
- you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
- you have symptoms of an infection – these can include feeling shaky, a sore throat, a cough or needing to pass urine a lot.
The number of your white blood cells usually increases steadily and returns to normal before your next chemotherapy. You will have a blood test before having more chemotherapy. If your number of white blood cells is still low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time.
Your nurse may give you injections of a drug called GCSF under the skin. It encourages the bone marrow (where blood cells are made) to make more white blood cells.
Bruising and bleeding
This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. If you have any bruising or bleeding you can’t explain, tell your doctor. This includes nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood spots or rashes on the skin. Some people may need a drip to give them extra platelets.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. These cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, you may be anaemic and may become tired and breathless. If you feel like this, tell your doctor or nurse. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells (blood transfusion).
This may happen in the first few days after chemotherapy. Your doctor will prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains to you. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.
If you still feel sick or are vomiting, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They can give you advice and change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.
Feeling very tired is a common side effect. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s over. Try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. It helps to balance this with some gentle exercise, such as short walks. If you feel sleepy, don’t drive or operate machinery.
Diarrhoea can sometimes be severe. Your doctor can prescribe anti-diarrhoea drugs to control it. You may be given these before you leave hospital. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explained. Make sure you drink at least two litres (three and a half pints) of fluids every day if you have diarrhoea.
If you have diarrhoea at night, or more than 4–6 times a day, contact the hospital straight away on the numbers your nurse gave you. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking your capecitabine tablets. When the diarrhoea is better, they will tell you if you can start taking it again. Sometimes, they will reduce the dose.
The treatment may make you constipated and cause tummy pain. Drinking at least two litres (three and a half pints) of fluids every day will help. Try to eat more foods that contain fibre such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread. Also try to take some regular, gentle exercise.
Your mouth may become sore and you may get ulcers. This can make you more likely to get an infection in your mouth. Gently clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals. Use a soft-bristled or children’s toothbrush. Your nurse might ask you to rinse your mouth regularly or use mouthwashes. It is important to follow any advice you are given and to drink plenty of fluids.
If you have any problems with your mouth, tell your nurse or doctor. They can prescribe medicines to prevent or treat mouth infections and reduce any soreness.
Numb or tingling hands or feet
These symptoms are caused by the effect of docetaxel on the nerves. It is called peripheral neuropathy. You may find it hard to fasten buttons or do other fiddly tasks.
Always tell your doctor if you have these symptoms. They sometimes need to lower the dose of the drug. The symptoms usually improve slowly after treatment finishes, but in some people they may never go away. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about this.
You usually lose all the hair on your head. Your eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair may also thin or fall out. This usually starts after your first or second cycle of chemotherapy. It is almost always temporary and your hair will grow back after chemotherapy ends, but rarely, the hair loss is permanent. It is important to cover your head to protect your scalp when you are out in the sun until your hair grows back. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss.
Scalp cooling is a way of lowering the temperature of the scalp to help reduce hair loss. Your nurse can tell you if this is an option for you.
Soreness and redness of palms of hands and soles of feet
This is called palmar-plantar or hand-foot syndrome. It gets better when your treatment ends. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice and prescribe creams to improve the symptoms. It can help to keep your hands and feet cool and to avoid tight-fitting socks, shoes and gloves.
Chemotherapy may affect your skin. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. If you’ve had radiotherapy (either recently or in the past), the area that was treated may become red or sore. Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.
Your eyes may become watery and feel sore. Your doctor can prescribe eye drops to help with this. If your eyes get red and inflamed (conjunctivitis), tell your doctor. This is because you may need antibiotic eye drops.
Your nails may become brittle and break easily. They may get darker or discoloured, and you may get lines or ridges on them. These changes usually grow out over several months after treatment finishes. Rarely, nails may come off, but they will grow back after treatment. Wearing gloves when washing dishes or using detergents will help protect your nails during treatment.
If you get pain, redness or swelling around your nails, let your nurse or doctor know.
Build-up of fluid
You may put on weight, or your ankles and legs may swell, because of fluid building up. The steroid tablets your doctor prescribes will help to prevent this. Tell your doctor or nurse if fluid builds up. If your ankles and legs swell, it can help to put your legs up on a foot stool or cushion. The swelling gets better after your treatment ends.
Muscle or joint pain
You may get pain in your joints or muscles for a few days after chemotherapy. Tell your doctor if this happens so they can prescribe painkillers. Let them know if the pain does not get better. Try to get plenty of rest. Taking regular, warm baths may help.
This treatment can cause headaches. If this happens, let your doctor or nurse know. They can give you painkillers.
Less common side effects of capecitabine and docetaxelBack to top
Changes in the way the heart works
This treatment can affect the way the heart works. You may have tests to see how well your heart is working before, during and sometimes after treatment.
Tell a doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms at any time during or after treatment:
- pain or tightness in your chest
- changes to your heartbeat.
These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, but it’s important to get them checked by a doctor.
Effect on the lungs
Docetaxel can cause changes to the lungs. Always tell your doctor if you have:
- a cough
- a fever
You should also let them know if any existing breathing problems get worse. If necessary, they can arrange for you to have tests to check your lungs.
It is important to let your doctor know straight away if you feel unwell or have any severe side effects, even if they’re not mentioned above.
Other information about capecitabine and docetaxelBack to top
Blood clot risk
Cancer increases the chances of a blood clot (thrombosis) and chemotherapy can add to this risk. A clot can cause symptoms such as:
- pain, redness and swelling in a leg
- chest pain.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor straight away. A blood clot is serious, but your doctor can treat it with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Some medicines, including ones you can buy in a shop or chemist, can interact with chemotherapy or be harmful when you are having chemotherapy. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
Let your doctor know if you’re taking folic acid, because it might increase the side effects of capecitabine.
Docetaxel contains alcohol. Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if this is a problem for you. This treatment may affect your ability to drive or operate machinery.
Chemotherapy can affect your fertility (being able to get pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, you can talk to your doctor before treatment starts.
Your doctor will advise you not to become pregnant or father a child during treatment. This is because the drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during and for a few months after chemotherapy. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about this.
If you have sex within the first couple of days of having chemotherapy, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in your semen or vaginal fluid.
Women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months after. This is in case there is chemotherapy in their breast milk.
Medical and dental treatment
If you need to go into hospital for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having chemotherapy. Give them contact details for your cancer doctor.
If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having chemotherapy.
This page has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC; medicines.org.uk). If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us.
This information was reviewed by a medical professional.
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