Some cancer medicine can cause side effects that persist (or even begin) long after your chemotherapy ends. Permanent and irreversible complications are possible with certain chemo drugs, but regular check-ups can help you catch them right away. Since breast cancer survivors are living longer, we’ll list some popular chemo drugs that can cause “late effects.”
What Are “Late Effects” From Taking Cancer Medicine?
A “late effect” is a symptom that occurs months or even years after treatment ends. Some late effects are permanent, while others only affect a few patients several years later. In other words, cancer medicine side effects are just like any other — some patients get them, others won’t. Often, new cancer patients focus on beating their diagnosis and don’t worry about possible late effects. But evaluating and treating late or permanent side effects from breast cancer medicine are part of survivorship care. As doctors improve treatment regimens to beat more aggressive cancers, patients must learn how to spot late effects right away.
Below are four popular breast cancer chemo drugs that can cause permanent or late effects. In some cases, equally effective alternatives exist that don’t have permanent side effects. Ask your doctor to review all cancer medicine options and possible late effects with you before starting treatment. Making a few changes to your chemo cocktail now could save your health for years down the road.
Breast Cancer Medicine With Long-Lasting Side Effect Risks
Cancer Medicine #1: Taxotere (Generic Name: Docetaxel)
Taxotere’s the most popular breast cancer medicine used today, sometimes given in a chemo cocktail combined with other drugs. After ending Taxotere chemo, these temporary symptoms usually subside:
- Fluid retention
- Peripheral neuropathy (tingling or numbness in your fingers and toes)
Unfortunately, some breast cancer patients treated with Taxotere go permanently bald.
A 2006 Colorado study found nearly 6.3% of Taxotere and docetaxel patients experienced permanent hair loss. The study concluded, “Such an emotionally devastating long-term toxicity from this combination should be taken into account… in women who likely will be cured of their breast cancer.”
A 2013 questionnaire revealed more Taxotere patients experienced persistent alopecia than researchers previously thought. The UK’s Clatterbridge Cancer Centre conducted a follow-up survey on 189 Taxotere patients treated over a five-year period. 15.8% reported persistent scalp hair loss years after finishing chemotherapy.
FDA-approved cold caps can help reduce your risk for this emotionally devastating side effect. The cap circulates liquid to keep your scalp cold during chemo infusions. This cooling system constricts your scalp’s blood vessels, reducing how much cancer medicine reaches your hair follicle cells. Limiting your follicles’ exposure to toxic chemotherapy drugs can help preserve more scalp hair and encourage faster regrowth. But if you already completed Taxotere chemo, there’s no hair regrowth treatment that works on every patient.
Cancer Medicine #2: Doxorubicin (Brand Name: Adriamycin)
Doxorubicin is also known as the “Red Devil.” Oncologists often combine it with Taxotere and Cyclophosphamide into a TAC chemo cocktail. One serious, possibly permanent side effect is cardiomyopathy, which decreases your heart’s ability to pump blood. This doxorubicin-induced heart damage is very serious, so each patient has a maximum lifetime dose limit.
And if you have heart disease before breast cancer strikes, your max doxorubicin dosage is even lower. This cancer medicine late effect can show up 7-8 years after completing chemotherapy.
Doctors suggest cancer survivors use the ABCDE method to identify heart disease signs as quickly as possible. This stands for:
- A – Awareness and a daily aspirin to protect heart health
- B – Blood pressure
- C – Cholesterol (keep it low) and if you smoke cigarettes, stop now!
- D – Dose strength affects your side effect risk and severity
- E – Exercise to keep your heart healthy and monitor how well it functions with an echocardiogram, if needed
Learn more about the ABCDE steps if your breast cancer medicine cocktail included doxorubicin.
Cancer Medicine #3: Cisplatin (Brand Name: Platinol)
Metastatic breast cancer patients may get a cancer medicine cocktail that contains Cisplatin. But it can cause permanent hearing loss, also known as ototoxicity. Cisplatin use can damage the neuro-sensory epithelium inside your cochlea and cause outer hair cells to die. In other words, it kills the little hairs and skin cells that vibrate inside your ear, which helps you hear. And this side effect is not rare. Cisplatin and other platinum-containing drugs damage your inner ear because the cochlea doesn’t eliminate cancer medicine for years. Cisplatin treatment leaves 40-80% of adults (and at least 50% of children) with significant, permanent hearing loss.
Fortunately, this research changed how doctors use platinum-based cancer medicine on patients. After each Cisplatin cycle, get your hearing tested. If damage occurs, early intervention can help minimize this serious, life-changing side effect. Hearing loss may start about 60 days after receiving Cisplatin. Or, it may show up months or years after treatment ends. Hearing aids can help some Cisplatin patients cope. Researchers are also searching for ways to prevent Cisplatin from reaching the inner ear.
Cancer Medicine #4: Cytoxan (Generic Name: Cyclophosphamide)
Cytoxan is also known generically as cyclophosphamide, and doctors frequently combine it with another cancer medicine or two before infusion.
Unfortunately, the higher your Cytoxan dose, the more likely it is to irritate or damage your bladder. Your doctor probably told you to drink tons of water and watch for blood in your urine. Bladder cancer’s a Cytoxan late effect that can appear 10-15 years after treatment.
Researchers are working on a selenium-based treatment help prevent Cytoxan bladder toxicity as well as cancer. Until that’s available, however, your best bet is drinking plenty of water and going to the bathroom often. Using the lowest effective cancer medicine dose and testing/monitoring after treatment ends can help reduce bladder risks.
Permanent Hair Loss from Cancer Medicine? Get Justice and Compensation
It’s important to educate yourself about possible late effects from breast cancer medicine. You can’t prevent them all, but swapping Taxol for Taxotere can help you avoid permanent hair loss. The two drugs work equally well for breast cancer, but only Taxotere causes permanent baldness.
If your hair didn’t grow back for six months after finishing Taxotere chemo, you may qualify for a cash settlement. Sanofi, the drug’s manufacturer, specifically didn’t warn U.S. patients about this risk from 2006-2016. However, the company did warn patients in other countries about this possibility. Don’t American women deserve to know all cancer medicine side effects, too? To see if you may qualify for compensation, complete your free Taxotere case evaluation online today. You’ll see your results in less than two minutes. Once you’ve submitted your information, an experienced lawyer will call to discuss your case and compensation options.
Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.