Taxotere and Permanent Hair Loss

DISCLAIMER: Please consult with your doctor before making any changes to your use of any FDA-approved drug or device.

A woman’s hair is a valuable thing.

It is an outward show of individuality; a trait that is on display every day. As a woman ages, her hair may become a source of frustration if she goes prematurely gray or if her hair is thinning. Society has placed such value on hair that hair care is a billion dollar industry, with a plethora of products available to achieve thicker hair, longer hair, colored hair, and stronger hair.

In the interest of achieving recovery from cancer, women must often endure temporary loss of their hair. Chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing cells, not just cancer cells. Because hair follicles contain some of the fastest growing cells in the body, most cancer patients who go through chemotherapy will experience some degree of hair loss. With most chemotherapy treatments, the hair loss is temporary and hair begins to regrow as early as two or three weeks after treatment ends.

Permanent Hair Loss

While temporary alopecia (hair loss) is an expected side effect of chemo, lawsuits are now being filed because a particular chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, has been causing women to experience continuing hair loss, or permanent alopecia, even years after chemotherapy is complete.

Plaintiffs allege that the drug manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis, failed to adequately warn patients and physicians about the link between permanent alopecia and Taxotere (docetaxel). Taxotere is a high potency medication given by injection with other chemotherapy drugs to treat patients with advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

Lawsuits claim that permanent alopecia caused by Taxotere has resulted in patients suffering:

  • Mental anguish
  • Economic damage
  • Diminished opportunities to work

Alternatives to Taxotere

Alternatives to Taxotere exist, alternatives which studies have shown to be at least as effective in treating breast cancer. Ironically, as far back as 2009, research from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that a less toxic, solvent-free chemotherapy drug called Abraxane was more effective in preventing the progression of breast cancer with fewer side effects compared to Taxotere. That study showed Abraxane also was much less toxic to patients. Since solvents are responsible for many of the side effects of chemotherapy, including a drop in the white blood cell count and numbness or tingling in the fingertips, Abraxane, which is administered on a weekly schedule, is less toxic than injections given every three weeks (in more powerful doses) of Taxotere.While there is little doubt that Taxotere has helped saved lives, its manufacturer is accused of knowing that the drug caused permanent alopecia and failed to provide appropriate warning labels.

There is also little doubt that Sanofi-Aventis, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Taxotere, had been made aware of its side effects. In 2012, the Oxford Journals published a study regarding the effects of docetaxel related to alopecia. The study was initiated, in part, due to dramatic case reports of permanent, irreversible, post-chemotherapy alopecia. The results of the study indicated that permanent and severe alopecia is a complication of the docetaxel breast cancer regimen.

Taxotere Lawsuits

The lawsuits against Sanofi-Aventis state that if the manufacturer had properly warned of the risks, patients would have been prescribed different chemotherapy drugs which have not been shown to result in permanent hair loss. Regardless of their now recovered health, those who experience permanent alopecia face emotional challenges, anxiety, and an altered quality of life that they were not warned of and, in some cases, could have been avoided.

Drug lawsuits involve a special area of the law known as product liability. The principle on which product liability law is based is that manufacturers of defective products are liable for injuries caused by their negligence. Obligations of drug manufacturers include not only the testing of a product’s safety before bringing it to market, but also continually testing the product after it is already on the market and warning of any risks.

When it appears that manufacturers have failed to take ongoing responsibility for warning of risks, plaintiffs may file legal claims for injuries.

“Alopecia has few physically harmful effects, but may lead to psychological consequences, including high levels of anxiety and depression. Medical treatment for the disorder has limited effectiveness, and the failure to find a cure can leave patients very distressed,” explains the National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Alopecia is a form of disfigurement that can affect a person’s sense of self and identity,” NCBI concludes.

Even as they pursue lawsuits against Sanofi-Aventis, the growing number of women suffering from the physically and emotionally devastating effects of alopecia wish only that their physicians had known to select chemotherapy treatments other than Taxotere.

DISCLAIMER: Please consult with your doctor before making any changes to your use of any FDA-approved drug or device.