Taxotere (docetaxel) is in the taxane drug family, a category that works by slowing cell growth. Taxotere, an anti-mitotic chemotherapy, was approved by the FDA for treatment of various forms of cancer in 1996. Despite being on the market for over a decade, consumers are only now learning about its more severe side effects. Research shows that Taxotere hair loss can be permanent long after chemotherapy treatments end.
How Taxane Drugs Work
In order to understand why permanent side effects happen, learn the basics of cancer and how it spreads. When cells divide, they form microtubules—fibers that pull a cell apart. These microtubules can then split one cell into two. And if that cell is cancerous, this division allows cancer to subsequently spread throughout the body. Taxotere works by stopping those microtubules from splitting into two cells. Cancer cells divide much faster than regular ones, forming many microtubules, which taxane drugs then target. Normal cells don’t divide at the same rate as cancer cells do. Therefore, taxanes won’t harm healthy cells like they will cancerous ones.
However, normal cells are still susceptible to microtubules, especially those that are rapidly growing—such as hair follicles.
Why Taxotere Hair Loss Happens
Hair loss (or alopecia) is common during chemotherapy treatments. Chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells in an attempt to slow the spread of cancer. Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs cannot tell the difference between cancerous and healthy cells, which is why healthy cells are destroyed in the process—hair follicles included. With most chemotherapy drugs, hair loss is temporary. Within a month, patients typically see the beginnings of hair growth. Two months later, patients generally have about an inch or two of hair. Different types of hair (head, eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic hair) will grow at different rates. But with Taxotere, hair loss may be permanent.
Permanent hair loss is a side effect unique to Taxotere. Comparable treatments like Taxol don’t induce permanent baldness. Taxotere hair loss also includes eyebrows and eyelashes.
In most cases, hair growth resumes three to six months after therapy is completed, and for some, it may even begin growing back during chemotherapy. Sanofi, the manufacturer of the drug Taxotere, relied on this fact for many years, though they were aware that in some cases Taxotere caused permanent hair loss. Their current packaging categorizes common and uncommon Taxotere side effects. They cite short term hair loss, but in parentheses include, “in most cases normal hair growth should return.” There is no mention of the possibility of permanent hair loss on any of their packaging.
Is Taxotere the Only Taxane to Cause Permanent Alopecia?
Docetaxel (Taxotere) is a cell cycle-specific agent that’s cytotoxic to all dividing cells. As mentioned, this includes cancerous as well as healthy dividing cells (such as hair follicles). Of course, other taxanes have their own varying side effects. However, only Taxotere specifically causes permanent alopecia.
Statistics suggest that this permanent side effect may not necessarily be rare, either. A 2005 study revealed that 9.2% of patients experienced Taxotere hair loss for two months or longer—10 years before the FDA released a 2015 statement that Taxotere has been linked to permanent alopecia. The same study cited patients that had experienced hair loss for 10 and a half years. A book published in Nepal called Pharmacology analyzes independent studies and concludes that permanent alopecia from Taxotere use could be as high as 6.3%. This would place permanent hair loss from Taxotere use in the “common” or “high” classification group.
How You Can Respond
If you or a loved one have experienced stalled or permanent hair loss as a result of taking Taxotere, you may be eligible for compensation. Because Sanofi (the manufacturer of Taxotere) did not disclose the possibility of this side effect on packaging or in literature to physicians, they withheld a harmful and psychologically damaging attribute of the drug. Those suffering from permanent alopecia as a result could have taken a comparable taxane that did not cause this side effect.
Get a free case evaluation. You can also learn more about the Taxotere lawsuit to see if you may qualify.
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.