GemTaxol 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.
The drugs used in GemTaxolBack to top
GemTaxol is named after the chemotherapy drugs used:
You have GemTaxol in the chemotherapy day unit or during a short stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you. During treatment you 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 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 about how you have been. 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 gives you anti-sickness drugs and sometimes a steroid as an injection into a vein or as tablets. They give you the drugs and chemotherapy through one of the following:
- a short thin tube the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand (cannula)
- a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (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 gives you gemcitabine as a drip (infusion) that lasts about half an hour. After this, they give you paclitaxel as a drip for three hours. They usually give the drip through a pump, which gives you the treatment over a set time.
When GemTaxol is being given
Some people might have side effects while they are having the chemotherapy.
You may suddenly feel warm and your face may get red while paclitaxel is being given. This should only last a few minutes.
Rarely, GemTaxol 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.
Tell your nurse straight away if you have any of these symptoms.
Usually, you are given steroid tablets to take at home the day before treatment to reduce the chance of this happening. It’s important to take the steroid tablets as you've been directed.
Instead of steroid tablets, you may be given a steroid by injection into a vein (intravenously) 30 to 60 minutes before the paclitaxel. Other drugs, such as antihistamines, may also be injected into a vein before your treatment to help prevent an allergic reaction.
The drug leaks outside the vein
If this happens when you’re having paclitaxel, it can damage the tissue around the vein. This is called extravasation. Tell the nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein. Extravasation is rare but if it happens it’s important that it’s dealt with quickly.
If you get any of these symptoms after you get home, contact the doctor or nurse straight away on the number they gave you.
GemTaxol may cause flu-like symptoms such as feeling hot or cold and/or shivery, having a headache and aching. You may have these symptoms while the drug is being given or several hours after. Your nurse will tell you if this is likely to happen. They may advise you to take paracetamol. Drinking plenty of fluids will also help.
If the symptoms are severe or don’t improve after 24 hours, contact the hospital.
Your course of GemTaxol
You have chemotherapy as a course of several sessions (or cycles) of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of GemTaxol takes 21 days (three weeks).
On the first day, you have gemcitabine and paclitaxel. A week later (day 8) you have gemcitabine again. You then have a rest period with no chemotherapy for the next 13 days.
At the end of the 21 days you start your second cycle of GemTaxol. 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 give you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to take. They may also give you anti-diarrhoea tablets if you need them. Take all your tablets exactly as your nurse or pharmacist has explained.
Possible side effects of GemTaxolBack to top
We explain the most common side effects of your treatment 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. Always tell your doctor or nurse about the side effects you have. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help control some of these. It is very important to take the drugs 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 telephone numbers for the hospital. You can call them if you feel unwell or need advice any time of day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
More information about these drugs
We’re not able 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
GemTaxol can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. This will make you more likely to get an infection. Your white blood cells start to reduce seven days after treatment and are usually at their lowest 10 to 14 days after. When the number of white blood cells is low, it’s called neutropenia.
Contact the hospital straight away on the contact 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, diarrhoea or needing to pass urine a lot.
The number of white blood cells usually increases steadily and returns to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more chemotherapy. If your white blood cells are still low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time.
Bruising and bleeding
Your treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor if you have any bruising or bleeding you can’t explain. 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)
GemTaxol 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 tired and breathless. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel like this. 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’s 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’s often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s finished. 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.
Your hair will thin or you may lose all the hair from your head. 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. It is important to cover your head to protect your scalp when you are out in the sun. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss.
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 and/or dentures morning and 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’s important to follow any advice you are given and to drink plenty of fluids.
Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any problems with your mouth. They can prescribe medicines to prevent or treat mouth infections and reduce any soreness.
You may get a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth or find that food tastes different. This should go away when your treatment finishes. Try using herbs and spices (unless you have a sore mouth or ulcers) or strong-flavoured sauces to give your food more flavour. Sucking boiled sweets can sometimes help get rid of a bitter or metallic taste. Your nurse can give you more advice.
Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
These symptoms are caused by the effect of paclitaxel on nerves. It’s called peripheral neuropathy. You may also find it hard to fasten buttons or do other fiddly tasks.
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.
Muscle and/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.
You may get pain or discomfort in your tummy (abdomen). Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help improve these symptoms. Tell them if the pain doesn’t improve or gets worse.
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. Gemcitabine can cause a rash, which may be itchy. 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 nails may become brittle and break easily. They may get darker or discoloured. 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.
Less common side effects of GemTaxolBack to top
Your doctor can prescribe drugs to control diarrhoea. Let them know if it is severe or if it doesn’t get better. Make sure you drink at least two litres (three and a half pints) of fluids every day if you have diarrhoea.
Paclitaxel may cause headaches. If this happens, let your doctor or nurse know. They can give you painkillers.
You may put on weight or your ankles and legs may swell because of fluid building up. Tell your doctor or nurse if fluid builds up. The steroid tablets your doctor prescribes will help to prevent this. 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.
GemTaxol may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment. You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working.
Changes in heartbeat
GemTaxol may cause changes to your heartbeat. This doesn’t usually cause serious problems and goes back to normal after treatment finishes. Let your doctor know if you notice your heartbeat is slow.
It's 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 GemTaxolBack to top
Blood clot risk
Cancer increases the chance of a blood clot (thrombosis) and chemotherapy can add to this. A clot can cause symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in a leg, breathlessness and chest pain. Contact your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms. 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 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.
Gemcitabine and paclitaxel contain 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.
Your treatment may affect your fertility (being able to get pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, you can talk to your doctor or nurse before treatment starts.
Your doctor will advise you not to become pregnant or to father a child during treatment. This is because the drugs may harm a developing baby. It’s important to use effective 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 semen or vaginal fluid.
Changes to your periods
Chemotherapy can sometimes stop the ovaries working. You may not get a period every month and they may eventually stop. In some women, this is temporary, but for others it is permanent and they start the menopause.
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.
Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse if you think you need dental treatment. 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.
Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to grow.
You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network - find out more.