Parker Waichman LLP is investigating potential lawsuits over Taxotere (docetaxel), a chemotherapy drug manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis. Taxotere is used to treat breast, lung, gastric, prostate, and neck cancers; however, a number of women say they were never informed about one of the drug’s life-changing side effects: Permanent hair loss. While there is no dispute that cancer is a life-threatening illness that must be treated effectively, patients do deserve the right to know about any and all possible side effects associated with a drug. By fully disclosing the risks, patients may choose an alternative treatment, or at least be prepared for the possibility of lifelong baldness.
If you or a loved one suffered from alopecia after using Taxotere, call Parker Waichman LLP today.
Sanofi-Aventis gained approval to market Taxotere in 1996. Taxotere is one of the most common drugs used to treat breast cancer, which affects roughly three million women in the United States. Breastcancer.org estimates that approximately 300,000 people will be diagnosed in 2016. Taxotere works by targeting the DNA or RNA of a cell, in order to inhibit the rapid growth characteristic of cancer. Taxotere is classified as a taxane, a class of drugs that also includes the chemotherapy drug, Paclitaxel. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Taxotere to treat:
- Breast cancer
- Non-small cell lung cancer
- Advanced stomach cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Prostate cancer
Patients and healthcare professionals should be aware that Taxotere may lead to a condition known as alopecia, or permanent hair loss. Hair loss is a known side effect of chemotherapy in general, but most cases resolve three to six months after treatment. Research shows that hair loss can directly impact a person’s quality of life. Irreversible hair loss can be emotionally devastating, especially when it occurs without warning.
Women were Never Informed about the Risk of Alopecia, Decreased Quality of Life
Research shows that Taxotere users may suffer from permanent hair loss. Alopecia affects all body hair, including the eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair. According to data from the GEICAM 9805 study, which was funded by Sanofi, 9.2 percent of patients taking the drug suffered from hair loss lasting at least 10 years. Other studies have also found that Taxotere is associated with permanent hair loss. A researcher at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers conducted a study showing that six percent of women taking Taxotere suffered alopecia.
In 2012, the Annals of Oncology published a study that followed 20 women taking Taxotere. Of those, 19 suffered hair loss. The researchers noted that one woman previously underwent chemotherapy with different drugs to treat recurring breast cancer. She had suffered hair loss in the past, but her hair ultimately regrew. After taking Taxotere, however, the hair loss was permanent. Women in the study suffered hair loss affecting the eyebrows and lashes. The authors, Kluger et al., stated, “Considering the increasing role of taxane-based therapies in adjuvant treatment, physicians and patients should be aware of this new distressing side-effect.”
Research suggests Taxotere causes hair loss more often than disclosed. Taxotere manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis, indicates that long-term alopecia-permanent hair loss-only occurs in about three percent of patients. This differs from the findings of other studies, which identified a higher risk of baldness. The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Colorado conducted a study showing that the rate of long-term alopecia was as high as 6.3 percent when Taxotere was given in combination with the drugs Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cyclophosphamide (also known as cytophosphane). In October 2013, responses to questionnaires distributed by The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in the United Kingdom found that 15.8 percent (21 out of 134) of Taxotere patients suffered significant persistent scalp hair loss.
Both studies acknowledged the emotional impact of alopecia. The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center concluded that, “Such an emotionally devastating long-term toxicity from this combination must be taken into account when deciding on adjuvant chemotherapy programs in women who likely will be cured of their breast cancer.” The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre expressed a similar opinion, noting the importance of informing patients: “Long term hair loss has a significant impact on quality of survival. This risk should be discussed routinely (as part of the process of informed consent) with all patients embarking upon Taxotere as a component of management of early breast cancer.”
When patients learn of all possible risks, they may decide to discuss other options with their physician. Also, Telegraph UK reports that Hugues Bourgeois, a French oncologist, recommends Paclitaxel as an alternative to Taxotere for his patients. Paclitaxel is shown to be just as effective as Taxotere, but has a “negligible percentage of Persistent Significant Alopecia,” he says. Permanent baldness may also be mitigated by the use of a cold cap device.
Shirley Ledlie is a cancer survivor, and author of the book Naked in the Wind which documents her struggle with facing permanent baldness following the use of Taxotere. Nine years ago, she also helped found the website “A Head of Our Time,” which has become “a thriving community of monk lookalikes around the world. We even have two members who discovered they were patients from the same clinic with the same oncologist-who told them both he had never seen it happen before!” When Shirley was completing her breast cancer treatment, she was eager for a new life ahead of her; however, the Telegraph reports, she soon learned that “something had gone drastically wrong with my hair follicles during treatment. What was supposed to be a temporary side-effect was actually going to be a permanent disfiguring feature in my life. I left the clinic that day in total denial and devoid of any femininity.”
“It’s like having ‘I am a cancer sufferer tattooed on your forehead. … I look like an 80-year-old, ugly old man.” Ledlie said, according to The Globe and Mail. “We want every woman who’s been offered Taxotere to know it is a possibility, so it is her choice whether to take the risk or not,” At the San Antonio Breast Cancer symposium, Dr. Bourgeois presented research on 82 patients showing that not all doctors warn of alopecia caused by Taxotere use. “Some women look bad, they look ill, they look like they are fighting cancer,” he said, according to The Globe and Mail. “It has an important impact on quality of life.”
Legal Help for Taxotere (Docetaxel) Patients If you or someone you know has suffered from permanent hair loss after using Taxoter.