Taxol (paclitaxel) is effective in treating breast cancer: numerous studies have found that it protects against breast cancer recurrence and death. Taxol and other taxanes can result in side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, nausea, fatigue, low white blood cell count, neuropathy, muscle and joint pain, cognitive impairment (chemo brain) and serious infections. While obtaining relief from these side effects obviously is desirable, it is very important for breast cancer patients to avoid consuming foods or taking supplements that will lessen the cytotoxic impact of chemotherapy on breast cancer cells.
While various micronutrients found in fruits, vegetables and other foods have been shown to help protect against breast cancer development and metastasis, some of the same micronutrients might enable breast cancer cells to survive chemotherapy. Therefore, the strategy we recommend during chemotherapy and for the following month is to consume the foods that enhance the effectiveness of Taxol, as well as those on the neutral food list (listed later in this article), while limiting or avoiding the foods that should not be consumed while on Taxol, as well as those on our general avoid list. Please see also our web page on factors influencing Taxol's effectiveness.
Foods that enhance the effectiveness of Taxol
The following foods are very good sources of compounds that have been shown to increase the anti-cancer effects of Taxol:
Many women undergoing chemotherapy develop abnormally low iron levels, which must be treated. Curcumin (found in turmeric) has been shown to be an iron chelator (a compound that removes iron from the body) as well as acting as a copper chelator, which could contribute to anemia. However, excess iron is also to be avoided during chemotherapy.
Sour cherries, olive oil, ginger and foods high in vitamin D might relieve joint and muscle pain, although their effectiveness has not specifically been studied in the context of taxane chemotherapy.
Supplements for patients being treated with Taxol
There is no supplement or combination of supplements that has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Attempting to take advantage of the apparent treatment effects of micronutrients and other dietary components by using supplements carries the risk of adverse and paradoxical effects, including promoting breast cancer growth and metastasis.
What is known is that when a beneficial micronutrient is administered at low doses by consuming food, it is likely to have subtle chemopreventive effects, whereas when the same micronutrient is administered at high doses, it is more likely to have pharmacological effects, with mostly unknown results. Therefore, it is best to obtain beneficial compounds by consuming food, if possible. The role of supplements is to make up for deficiencies that are difficult to correct through diet.
The following supplements generally been found to be safe and beneficial for those being treated with Taxol:
Supplement → Dosage
Avoid taking supplements during the two days before, the day of, and the day after each chemotherapy treatment. Please consult your oncology team for advice concerning your situation and dosages. It might make sense to be tested for deficiency in vitamin D and plan for follow up to determine if your reading has reached a desirable level.
Foods that should be limited or avoided during Taxol chemotherapy
The following foods have been found either to interfere with the effectiveness of Taxol or, in the case of raw shellfish, should not be consumed by those with impaired immunity:
Supplements and vitamins that should be avoided during Taxol chemotherapy
The supplements below have been found to interfere with the effectiveness of treatment with Taxol. That is not to say that most other supplements are safe to take; there are no relevant scientific studies concerning the interactions between most supplements and Taxol.
Neutral foods for use during Taxol chemotherapy
We have provided the list below in order to increase the number of foods that can be consumed while on Taxol. It includes some foods for which we do not have enough information to put on our general recommended list, but that do not appear to promote breast cancer or interfere with Taxol treatment (when consumed in moderation). It is important not to drive up blood sugar and insulin levels with high carbohydrate/low fiber meals. Consume the foods below in moderation, but concentrate on the foods recommended above.
Hesperidin and saffron could reduce effectiveness of cyclophosphamide
Hesperidin, a flavonoid found in oranges, tangerines, kumquats, lemons, limes and grapefruit, has the potential to interfere with chemotherapy regimens containing cyclophosphamide, such as TAC (Taxotere, Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide). Cyclophosphamide is an alkylating agent frequently used in combination with taxanes (Taxol, Taxotere) and/or anthracyclines (Adriamycin, epirubicin) to treat breast cancer. Hesperidin is found most abundantly in the peel, pith and membranous parts of oranges and other citrus fruits. Prepared food sources include orange tea, unfiltered orange juice, orange marmalade, and dishes that incorporate citrus peel such as Szechuan Orange Chicken.
Saffron, vitamin A, vitamin B12 supplements, vitamin C and vitamin E supplements also have the potential to interfere with the treatment effects of cyclophosphamide.
Weight loss and weight gain during chemotherapy
Recent studies suggest that fasting around chemotherapy treatments could protect normal cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy while sensitizing cancer cells to the treatment. However, more studies and human trials are required before it can be determined whether fasting during chemotherapy is safe and effective.
On the other hand, weight gain, which is common during chemotherapy, is known to be associated with less favorable prognosis and should be avoided.