Women who have taken the drug Taxotere (docetaxel) to fight breast cancer say they were never warned of a serious side effect – permanent hair loss – that left them looking sick long after they finished treatment for the disease.
“I had a normal head of hair and I am now completely bald,” said Montreal resident Cynthia MacGregor, who has been diagnosed with alopecia universalis, a loss of all body hair, the Toronto Globe & Mail reported in 2010. Another sufferer, 51-year-old French woman Shirley Ledlie said, “It’s like having ‘I am a cancer sufferer’ tattooed on your forehead.” “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,” Ms. Ledlie said.
This lasting side effect of Taxotere came to light when cancer patients began to live longer and women who had taken Taxotere found their hair did not grow back after treatment ended.
Taxotere (docetaxel) is a chemotherapy drug approved for the treatment of breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, advanced stomach cancer, head and neck cancer and metastatic prostate cancer.
Permanent hair loss is one of the most serious side effects of Taxotere. Other side effects include:
- Bone, muscle or joint pain
- Fatigue and weakness
- Fluid retention with weight gain, swelling of the ankles or abdominal area
- Low red blood cell count (anemia)
- Low white blood cell count
- Mouth or throat sores
- Nail changes (color changes to fingernails or toenails)
- Peripheral neuropathy (numbness in the fingers and toes)
- Taste changes
In December 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the Taxotere label to include a warning about permanent hair loss. The Taxotere label already carried warnings for the eye disorder cystoid macular edema (CME), which can result in impaired vision. In addition, some patients experience intoxication because of Taxotere’s alcohol content and the FDA advises women to be careful about driving or operating machinery right after a Taxotere infusion.
In lawsuits filed against Sanofi-Aventis, the manufacturer of Taxotere, women claim the company failed to warn them of the increased risks of permanent alopecia (loss of hair). The lawsuits say that if the manufacturer had properly warned about the risk of permanent hair loss, many patients would have been prescribed a different chemotherapy drug (such as Taxol), which is just as effective but does not result in permanent hair loss.