How Docetaxel Works:

Cancerous tumors are characterized by cell division, which is no longer controlled as it is in normal tissue. “Normal” cells stop dividing when they come into contact with like cells, a mechanism known as contact inhibition.  Cancerous cells lose this ability.  Cancer cells no longer have the normal checks and balances in place that control and limit cell division.  The process of cell division, whether normal or cancerous cells, is through the cell cycle.  The cell cycle goes from the resting phase, through active growing phases, and then to mitosis (division).

The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt cell division.  Usually, the drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in division.  If the cells are unable to divide, they die.  The faster the cells are dividing, the more likely it is that chemotherapy will kill the cells, causing the tumor to shrink.  They also induce cell suicide (self-death or apoptosis).

Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells only when they are dividing are called cell-cycle specific.  Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells when they are at rest are called cell-cycle non-specific.  The scheduling of chemotherapy is set based on the type of cells, rate at which they divide, and the time at which a given drug is likely to be effective.  This is why chemotherapy is typically given in cycles.

Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing.  Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between the cancerous cells and the normal cells. The “normal” cells will grow back and be healthy but in the meantime, side effects occur.  The “normal” cells most commonly affected by chemotherapy are the blood cells, the cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and/or hair loss.  Different drugs may affect different parts of the body.

Docetaxel belongs to a class of chemotherapy drugs called plant alkaloids. Plant alkaloids are made from plants.  The vinca alkaloids are made from the periwinkle plant (catharanthus rosea). The taxanes are made from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree (taxus).  The vinca alkaloids and taxanes are also known as antimicrotubule agents. The podophyllotoxins are derived from the May apple plant. Camptothecan analogs are derived from the Asian “Happy Tree” (Camptotheca acuminata).  Podophyllotoxins and camptothecan analogs are also known as topoisomerase inhibitors.  The plant alkaloids are cell-cycle specific.  This means they attack the cells during various phases of division.

  • Vinca alkaloids: Vincristine, Vinblastine and Vinorelbine
  • Taxanes:  Paclitaxel and Docetaxel
  • Podophyllotoxins:  Etoposide and Tenisopide
  • Camptothecan analogs: Irinotecan and Topotecan

Antimicrotubule agents (such as docetaxel), inhibit the microtubule structures within the cell.  Microtubules are part of the cell’s apparatus for dividing and replicating itself.  Inhibition of these structures ultimately results in cell death.

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.

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