Most cancer patients expect to go bald during chemotherapy and hope their hair will grow back later. Most chemo drugs cause temporary hair loss, but Taxotere, which frequently treats breast cancer, may cause permanent alopecia. Patients should carefully compare Taxotere side effects against other similar chemo drugs before embarking on an extended chemotherapy regimen. Also known as docetaxel, up to 15% of Taxotere patients report irreversible, permanent hair loss.
Taxotere Frequently Combined With Other Chemo Drugs
Cancer results in uncontrollable abnormal cell division (e.g., a malignant growth or tumor caused by rapidly dividing cells). Therefore, most chemo drugs try to halt or slow abnormal cell growth. Taxotere belongs in the taxane drug family. It’s administered in a “cocktail” containing multiple chemo drugs which improve disease-free survival rates.
Depending on your cancer type and how aggressive it is, you may have different treatment options. For breast cancer patients, Taxol or Taxotere combined with Cytoxan is a common drug cocktail. As the chemo “gold standard” for decades, Taxol or Taxotere combined with alkylating agent Cytoxan is an incredibly effective treatment. In fact, one study states that this cocktail can add up to one year of life with breast cancer.
Taxol and Taxotere are frequently combined with AC, or Adriamycin, most commonly for node-positive breast cancer or to treat recurrence. While both Taxol and Taxotere cause temporary hair loss, most side effects subside after chemotherapy ends. Commonly reported side effects include fluid retention, peripheral neuropathy, nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss. But with Taxotere, hair loss is one side effect that may be permanent.
Studies Show Higher Rates of Permanent Alopecia Than Previously Reported
The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Colorado published a study showing permanent hair loss in up 6.3% of Taxotere patients. This included patients given Taxotere in a “cocktail” of chemo drugs including Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide. The report concludes, “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.” In other words, if your oncologist recommends a taxane-based chemotherapy regimen, ask about alternatives to Taxotere. Another taxane drug may be equally effective while helping you avoid the devastating side effects of irreversible, permanent alopecia.
Another study by The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in the UK followed cancer patients three years after completing treatment. In October 2013, doctors sent questionnaires to 189 patients who received Taxotere chemotherapy in 2010. Among 134 respondents, 15.8% reported they still suffered persistent scalp hair loss three years later.
Researchers concluded that “Long term significant scalp alopecia (here lasting for up to 3.5 years following completion of chemotherapy) may affect 10-15% of patients following docetaxel for EBC. This appears to be unrelated to other patient and treatment characteristics.”
What Alternative Chemo Drugs to Taxotere Exist?
If Taxotere was the only viable taxane drug, permanent alopecia would be an acceptable trade for saving cancer patients’ lives. But Taxol, Taxotere’s closest competitor, doesn’t cause permanent hair loss. In fact, Taxol actually be more effective than Taxotere for cancer patients. A study on Taxol’s efficacy found that one weekly dose for 12 weeks was more effective than taking four Taxol treatments every three weeks. It also evaluated Taxotere, but concluded that “weekly Taxol was more effective.”
Did Manufacturer Sanofi Downplay Taxotere Side Effects?
Taxotere manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis knew about the possible permanent alopecia risk. However, Sanofi repeatedly downplayed permanent hair loss risks, even discounting studies presenting evidence supporting the alopecia link. Although hair loss is a side effect that’s listed on Taxotere packaging, it says “in most cases normal hair growth should return. In some cases, (frequency not known) permanent hair loss has been observed.”
But independent studies — in both the U.S. and Europe — found persistent alopecia is not rare. The Rocky Mountain study found 6.3% of patients never had normal hair regrowth, while Sanofi’s literature stated 3%. Although the FDA didn’t issue any warnings about Taxotere permanent alopecia risks until 2015, women began reporting persistent hair loss in 2010. Despite continued anecdotal and scientific evidence, Sanofi failed to warn hundreds of thousands of American women prescribed the drug for an entire decade.
Some Oncologists Now Ask Patients to Choose Between Taxotere & Other Chemo Drugs
Oncologist Dr. Hugues Bourgeois presented research on 82 patients suffering persistent alopecia during a San Antonio conference in 2010. Dr. Bourgeois stated many doctors don’t warn their patients about this potential side effect — perhaps because Sanofi downplayed it.
Dr. Bourgeois now offers patients two choices: 12 cycles of Taxol, or four of Taxotere (and risk permanent hair loss). He says Taxol “works just as well on breast cancer” and is also cheaper. “Some women look bad, they look ill, they look like they are fighting cancer,” says Dr. Bourgeois. He refers to them as “Taxotears” — women who survived cancer, but now cope with persistent hair loss. He emphasizes the drug “has an important impact on quality of life” for survivors who are now permanently bald.
What You Can Do
Because Sanofi downplayed Taxotere’s risk of permanent baldness for American patients and doctors from 2005-2015, negligence lawsuits are now underway. If you took Taxotere chemotherapy treatment and suffered persistent alopecia, you may be eligible for compensation. Fill out your free Get your Taxotere claim review today and a lawyer will contact you to discuss your case.
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.