TAC is a combination of chemotherapy drugs made up of:
- T – docetaxel (also called Taxotere)
- A – doxorubicin (also called Adriamycin)
- C – cyclophosphamide
It is a treatment for early stage breast cancer after surgery.
How it works
These chemotherapy drugs destroy quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.
How you have it
You have all 3 drugs into your bloodstream (intravenously).
Drugs into your bloodstream
You have the treatment through a drip into your arm or hand. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.
You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.
When you have it
You usually have TAC chemotherapy as cycles of treatment. Each cycle of treatment lasts 3 weeks. Depending on your needs you might have between 4 to 6 cycles of treatment, taking 3 to 4 months in total.
You have all 3 drugs on the 1st day of each cycle of treatment. Then you have a rest with no treatment for the next 20 days. This completes one cycle. You then begin another cycle by having the same drugs again followed by the rest period.
You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.
How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.
When to contact your team
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:
- you have severe side effects
- your side effects aren’t getting any better
- your side effects are getting worse
Early treatment can help manage side effects better.
We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.
Common side effects
These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
Increased risk of getting an infection
Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.
Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection.
Bruising, bleeding gums and nosebleeds
This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).
Breathlessness and looking pale
You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.
Mouth sores and ulcers
Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. It helps to keep your mouth and teeth clean, drink plenty of fluids, avoid acidic foods such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits, and chew gum to keep the mouth moist. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.
Red or pink urine
This won't harm you. It’s due to the colour of the chemotherapy and lasts for one or two days.
You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. Your hair will usually grow back once treatment has finished but it is likely to be softer. It may grow back a different colour or be curlier than before.
Feeling or being sick
Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.
It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
Tiredness (fatigue) during and after treatment
Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) can happen during and after treatment - doing gentle exercises each day can keep your energy up. Don't push yourself, rest when you start to feel tired and ask others for help.
Fluid build up
A build up of fluid may cause swelling in your arms, hands, ankles, legs, face and other parts of the body. Contact your doctor if this happens to you.
Skin and nail problems
Skin and nail problems include a skin rash, dry skin, itching and darker skin. Your nails may also become brittle, dry, change colour or develop ridges. This usually goes back to normal when you finish treatment.
Blood in urine
You might have pain when you pass urine. Or you may see blood when you pass urine. This is caused by inflammation of the bladder. Let your doctor know if this happens.
You should drink 8 to 12 cups of fluid a day to try to prevent this.
Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually returns to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.
Numbness, tingling or pain in fingers or toes
Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your doctor if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons.
Your joints might feel sore or ache. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what painkillers you can take to help with this.
Occasional side effects
These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (1 to 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- heart problems usually temporary including changes to the heart rate, inflammation of the muscle or enlarging of the heart
- aching or sore muscles
- high temperature (fever) and chills
- inflammation (swelling) and sore around the drip site - tell your nurse straight away if this happens
- diarrhoea or constipation
- mild allergic reaction causing a rash
- feeling weak
- a change in blood pressure this could be high or low
- bleeding in the stomach
- tummy (abdominal) pain
Rare side effects
These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- a second cancer developing years after treatment
- inflammation of the liver - hepatitis
- inflammation of the food pipe (oesophagus)
- problems with your eyesight including blurred vision
- red, sore and itchy eyes (conjunctivitis)
- not enough fluid in the body (dehydration)
- a change to the way your kidneys work caused by a low level of a certain hormone (SIADH)
Coping with side effects
We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.
What else do I need to know?
Other medicines, food and drink
Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.
You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with these drugs. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.
Men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.
Pregnancy and contraception
This treatment may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least a year afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drugs may come through in your breast milk.
Treatment for other conditions
Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.
Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.
In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.
You can have:
- other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment
Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your
Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine.
If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.
Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.
More information about this treatment
For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.
You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.
This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.