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.
Please note that while salmon and the closely-related Arctic char are recommended for consumption during Taxol chemotherapy, recent research suggests that herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, lake trout and similar fatty fish should not be consumed the day before through the day after a chemotherapy treatment. In addition, these fish should be consumed only in moderation during the remaining days of each cycle. Fish oil supplements should not be consumed by those undergoing chemotherapy.
Foods and other products that should not be used during Taxol chemotherapy
The following foods and supplements 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:
Acetyl-l-carnitine, which is sometimes used for the prevention of taxane-induced neuropathy, has been found actually to increase neuropathy and should not be used.
Citrus flavonoid hesperidin 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.
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.
Food should not be deep fried, barbequed, pan fried at high heat, roasted or smoked. The best cooking methods for starchy foods are steaming, boiling and baking. Very little salt should be used in preparing food.
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.
We caution against taking curcumin, EGCG, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), I3C, DIM, luteolin, apigenin, melatonin or resveratrol in supplement form because of the possibility of unintended consequences. Safe and effective dosages for these supplements during chemotherapy have not been established.