It doesn’t take a pharmacist or doctor to know that combining certain drugs can make them more effective—or more deadly. But for specific types of cancer, drugs are often purposely given concurrently in what is commonly known as combination chemotherapy. For example, Taxotere and Carboplatin are commonly paired and administered intravenously to treat breast cancer.
Combination chemotherapy involves using drugs with different mechanisms to decrease the likelihood that resistant cancer cells will develop. When the right chemotherapy drugs are combined, the mechanisms help to decrease side effects and allow each drug to be used at their optimal dose. Often, combination drugs have a synergistic effect, making them more effective than they would be on their own.
Scientists are actively seeking the best combination of chemotherapy treatments. For this reason, docetaxel (also known as Taxotere) and carboplatin are often used in conjunction. Studies show that Taxotere, as a cytotoxic cancer drug, produced “significant non-hematological toxicity” when used on its own. Side effects from this toxicity can include renal and electrolyte disturbances, nausea/emesis, and diarrhea. But when combined, Taxotere and Carboplatin produced “less toxicity and better tolerability” for patients.
In order to understand the combination, it is important to grasp what they do individually, and what their side effects are.
Taxotere’s Effect on Your Body
Taxotere is used to treat breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, advanced stomach cancer, head and neck cancer as well as metastatic prostate cancer. It is administered intravenously through an IV.
Taxotere is classified as a cytotoxic drug, which is a drug that stops rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, cytotoxic drugs can’t tell the difference between regular cells and cancer cells. This means that normal cells are damaged along with cancer cells during treatment. This causes several side effects, some of which can be extreme. More significantly, in Taxotere’s case, one adverse reaction may be permanent.
Taxotere side effects include:
- Fluid retention (including weight gain, swelling of ankles or abdomen)
- Peripheral neuropathy (numbness in fingers and toes, and other nerve damage)
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nail changes
- Muscle/bone/joint pain
- Low platelet count
Taxotere and other cytotoxic drugs can weaken your immune system, giving patients a higher risk of infection. Washing hands often, and avoiding crowds can help reduce risks of a serious illness. If you experience symptoms or side effects, report them to your health care provider, as they can help monitor your condition better, and provide other medications that may help diminish uncomfortable side effects.
Carboplatin, an Alkylating Agent
Carboplatin belongs to a drug class known as alkylating agents. These agents are most active in the resting phase of the cell, and work to interfere with cancer cell growth. Carboplatin interferes with cancer cell growth, similar to Taxotere. It is primarily used to treat ovarian cancer, but can also be used for lung, head and neck, endometrial, esophageal, bladder, breast and cervical cancers, as well as tumors, and as a preparation for stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Like Taxotere, it is administered intravenously through an IV, but can also be given intra-peritoneal, directly into the peritoneal cavity in the abdomen.
Because it works to target cancer cell growth, it causes potentially severe side effects.
Side effects include:
- Burning sensation at the injection site
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth Sores
- Peripheral neuropathy (decreased sensation as well as paresthesia are bout serious Carboplatin side effects. Individuals with sensory loss and difficulty walking may become progressively worse.)
- Central neurotoxicity
- Hearing loss
- Cardiovascular events
- Allergic reactions
The Taxotere and Carboplatin Combination
Individually, both of these drugs can be quite effective. When combined, they raise disease-free survival rates. However, this popular drug cocktail can still cause unpleasant side effects.
Oncologists administer both drugs intravenously with a cannula, central line, or PICC line in liquid infusion form. Doctors administer each drug separately, and individual cycles take around one hour to complete.
The combined side effects of Taxotere and Carboplatin may include:
- Allergic reaction
- Pain along the vein
- Heightened risk of infection
- Bruising or bleeding
- Changes in kidney function
- Muscle or joint pain
- Hair loss
- Sore mouth
- Taste changes
- Skin changes (avoid the sun if possible, and wear at least SPF 30 at all times when outdoors)
- Neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Blood clots (increased risk)
This combination treatment has been used increasingly since 2001, after a Scottish randomized trial tested Taxotere and Carboplatin against Taxol and Carboplatin. The trial included 1,077 ovarian cancer patients from 83 medical centers in 10 countries. Doctors randomly assigned either regimen after surgically removing their ovarian tumors. While survival rates were comparable using either regimen, Taxotere and Carboplatin causes less damage to nerve tissue.
It’s interesting to note that this specific combination causes less nerve tissue damage. (Especially since peripheral neuropathy is a side effect of both chemotherapy drugs when taken individually.) While patients may still experience nerve damage, the risk with Taxotere and Carboplatin is significantly lower than Taxol and Carboplatin.
Of course, Taxotere has a long-lasting side effect risk that its competitor, Taxol, does not.
Notably, doctors typically don’t disclose one possible Taxotere side effect: permanent alopecia (hair loss). While its competitor, Taxol, provides similar results as a cytotoxic drug, it doesn’t cause permanent alopecia.
Alopecia is a common and psychologically distressing side effect of chemotherapy. one that many patients are well-aware of before beginning treatment. Patients typically lose scalp, pubic as well as auxiliary hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Most often, loss is temporary and hair returns within 3-6 months of finishing chemotherapy. But a recent study found only Taxotere causes permanent hair loss. What’s more, this hair loss is irreversible. (Carboplatin alone does not cause permanent alopecia.)
While Taxotere and carboplatin chemotherapy is effective, ask your doctor about possible side effects before starting treatment. Taxol and carboplatin is another viable option. Additionally, Taxol doesn’t cause the permanent baldness, a psychologically distressing side effect.
File a Permanent Hair Loss Injury Claim
If either you or a loved one experienced permanent hair loss due to Taxotere and carboplatin, you may qualify for compensation. Because Taxotere didn’t warn patients or doctors about this potential side effect, they misled many who may have chosen a different medication.
Learn more about the Taxotere lawsuit and get a free evaluation today to see if you may qualify for financial compensation.
Related: How Taxotere Permanent Hair Loss Affects Cancer Survivors
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.