Paclitaxel is FDA-approved and has been used successfully to treat several cancers, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, and cervical cancer. However, it has received mixed reviews when treating mesothelioma. Researchers believe paclitaxel will be most effective when combined with surgery, radiation therapy, and other chemotherapy agents. Doctors hope to see more promising results for mesothelioma when used as part of a multimodal treatment plan.
How Paclitaxel Works
Paclitaxel is administered by intravenous infusion, and treats cancer systemically. It is routinely given every three weeks for six cycles. However, the duration and amount of paclitaxel treatment is dependent upon patient response, side effects, and other factors.
Paclitaxel, an antimicrotubule agent, kills cancer cells by binding to proteins called microtubules. Microtubules are necessary for cell division. By binding to these special proteins, paclitaxel stops the cancer cells from dividing which results in cell death.
Common side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
More rare but dangerous side effects include:
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Chest pain
- Slowed heartbeat
Study Results and Potential Benefits of Paclitaxel
Despite successfully treating other cancers, paclitaxel has had less success when treating mesothelioma. Studies performed in the early 1990s indicated no increase in lifespan when paclitaxel was used to treat mesothelioma. However, these studies tested paclitaxel as a single chemotherapeutic agent. Repeat studies performed in 1996 and 1999 reported median survival times of nine and six months, respectively.
Current research is evaluating outcomes when paclitaxel is combined with cisplatin or carboplatin. Additional research evaluating whether paclitaxel is effective when combined with surgery, radiation, and other chemotherapeutic agents is also ongoing. Doctors remain hopeful that paclitaxel will play a vital role in treating mesothelioma in the future.