Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be traumatizing. Between tests and chemotherapy treatments, many patients feel overwhelmed. Then, patients prioritize survival above all else. At least, it is until they recover and realize that some of the worst chemotherapy side effects aren’t going away. Breast cancer survivor Shirley Ledlie is one of these patients. After finishing her treatment with Taxotere (also known as docetaxel), Ledlie says she “could see her ‘new’ normal life beckoning.” Despite waiting patiently through the regrowth period, Ledlie discovered something had “gone drastically wrong with my hair follicles during treatment.” (Most patients see hair growth return within a month after finishing treatment and have about an inch of hair by the second week.) Ledlie soon learned what made her Taxotere hair loss different compared to other chemo patients in recovery.
Explains Ledlie: “What was supposed to be a temporary side effect was actually going to be a permanent disfiguring feature in my life. I left the clinic that day in total denial and devoid of any femininity.” Sadly, Ledlie’s story is not unique. Thousands of men and women have reported permanent alopecia (hair loss) after chemotherapy treatment with Taxotere. Patients are now filing lawsuits against the manufacturer for failing to warn patients about this startling and life-changing side effect.
A Little About Taxotere
Taxotere is a chemotherapy medication that typically treats breast, lung, prostate, stomach and head/neck cancer. It is administered intravenously, and infusion schedules vary based on height, weight, general health, and cancer type being treated.
Part of a group of drugs in the taxane family, Taxotere it works by slowing cell growth. The goal of chemotherapy is to stop cell division, keeping cancer from spreading and tumors from getting larger. The main problem with stopping cell division is that chemotherapy drugs do not know the difference between cancerous and normal cells. As a result, healthy cells also die off. Chemo commonly affects blood, mouth, stomach and bowel cells as well as hair follicles. However, patients may find that different drugs affect different areas of the body.
After completing chemotherapy, side effects typically subside as well. Fluid retention, peripheral neuropathy, nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss, among others diminish. But what makes Taxotere hair loss different is that it’s a potentially permanent side effect.
Doesn’t Hair Usually Fall Out During Chemotherapy? How Is Taxotere Hair Loss Different?
Many patients say having no hair at all is better than cancer. And if Taxotere was the only taxane drug available to treat aggressive cancers, it would be the obvious choice. However, several taxanes prove to be just as good or even more effective than Taxotere. However, Sanofi representatives refuse to acknowledge that what makes Taxotere hair loss different is that it’s permanent for some patients.
Dr. Laurent Didier-Jacobs, vice-president of medical affairs for Sanofi-aventis Canada, says a permanent alopecia risk has been listed on Taxotere’s label since 2006. Dr. Didier-Jacobs also asserts that “We (Sanofi) fully understand that persistent alopecia may be a burden for patients, but still we consider it’s certainly something which is not life-threatening or is not something which impairs the likelihood of survival. Taking into account the benefit brought by this type of therapy, we think things should be put in perspective.”
Again, if Taxotere was the most effective drug, there would be no question. But according to studies, Taxotere’s competitor Taxol is more effective. Moreover, Taxol does not cause permanent baldness.
A study evaluated Taxol’s efficacy according to dosage. Researchers found that 12 weekly Taxol treatments were more effective than four Taxol treatments given every three weeks. The study also evaluated Taxotere’s efficacy and found “weekly Taxol was more effective.”
Patients Say Permanent Hair Loss Diminishes Quality of Life
French oncologist Hugues Bourgeouis recommends Taxol (Paclitaxel) instead of Taxotere for his patients. That’s because Taxol doesn’t cause permanent hair loss. One Rocky Mountain Cancer Center study found up to 6.3% of Taxotere patients had permanent hair loss. Patients prescribed Taxotere (combined with Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide) emphatically state that doctors shouldn’t gloss over this information. “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,” the study concludes.
The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre agrees: “Long-term hair loss has a significant impact on quality of survival. This risk should be discussed routinely (as part of the process of informed consent) with all patients embarking upon Taxotere as a component of management of early breast cancer.”
Quality of survival, as Clatterbridge so profoundly put it, is what many women suffering from permanent alopecia still struggle to find.
Risk of Permanence Makes Taxotere Hair Loss Different. So Why Do Doctors Still Prescribe It?
In March 2016, Ami Dodson of California brought a lawsuit against drug giant Sanofi-Aventis. Dodson claims Sanofi knew Taxotere could cause permanent hair loss, but purposely hid the problem. Instead of warning patients and physicians, Sanofi heavily promoted the drug’s superiority.
During her trial, Dodson said “Defendants (Sanofi) [preyed] on one of the most vulnerable groups of individuals at the most difficult time in their lives. Defendants obtained billions of dollars in increased revenues at the expense of unwary cancer victims simply hoping to survive their condition and return to a normal life.”
Although Taxotere’s packaging lists hair loss among possible side effects, the wording seems ambiguous. Significantly, the label says “in most cases normal hair growth should return. In some cases, (frequency not known) permanent hair loss has been observed.” Many women insist Sanofi didn’t adequately disclose this risk to prospective patients.
In July 2016, Veronica A. Smith filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Smith says she underwent five rounds of Taxotere treatment. She knew about the risk of temporary baldness. But what made Taxotere hair loss different for Smith is that it still hasn’t grown back and probably never will. Due to her permanent alopecia, Smith suffered “disability, mental anguish and distress, loss of earnings and loss of enjoyment of life.”
Among Smith’s allegations are that Sanofi failed to disclose their Taxotere safety research findings. They reportedly also failed to adequately warn about what makes permanent Taxotere hair loss different from temporary chemotherapy side effects.
What You Can Do
Because Sanofi failed to adequately warn physicians and patients about Taxotere’s damaging effects, plaintiffs are suing for loss of enjoyment and quality of life. If you or a loved one experienced Taxotere hair loss, you may be eligible for compensation. To see if you your claim may qualify, fill out a free Taxotere case review today.
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.