For nearly 14 million cancer survivors in the United States, returning to their pre-diagnosis and treatment life can be difficult. Relationships and perspectives about life are permanently changed as well as physical appearance. For most, hair regrowth after chemotherapy is symbolic of getting a fresh start at life renewed and embrace new opportunities. But for some patients whose chemo regimen included Taxotere (docetaxel), hair never grows back — a daily reminder of cancer’s devastation. Now, women are speaking out about Taxotere permanent hair loss.
How Taxotere Permanent Hair Loss Affects Women
“If only I had hair, I could put cancer behind me,” writes survivor Emma on A Head of Our Time. A women’s support group blogs about life with Taxotere permanent hair loss (persistent alopecia) on the site. “Without the wig, I’m still a cancer victim; with the wig, I’m not me,” explains Emma, who lives in England.
Fellow survivor Michelle says Taxotere permanent hair loss is about more than just looks. “There are many people who hear my story and callously remark that I look just fine in my wig,” writes Michelle. “Though that may be the case, it isn’t possible — nor comfortable — to wear a wig all the time every day. I have also learned through experience that there are many things that simply can’t be done in a wig. You can’t ride a roller coaster or go to a water park with your kids in a wig. You can’t exercise vigorously or ride a bike on a trail. And you can’t hold a squirmy baby or hug a friend too tightly, because your wig will slip… You can’t dive into a pool or walk through the woods in a wig. Finally, you can’t be intimate with your husband in a wig,” Michelle laments.
Emma and Michelle’s stories aren’t isolated incidents. While hair often grows back looking different after chemo (color changes, finer or coarser texture), most patients look forward to regrowth as they begin to function normally again. Some alopecia victims feel like their cancer never really went away. Many cancer survivors say the psychological effects are devastating. Moreover, almost all of them say they weren’t warned about this particular chemo side effect before receiving treatment.
What Studies Say About Taxotere Permanent Hair Loss
Sanofi-Aventis manufactures and distributes Taxotere. According to the company’s internal studies, about 3% of Taxotere patients experience persistent alopecia. Since 2006, Taxotere’s packaging stated, “in most cases normal hair growth should return. In some cases [sic] (frequency not known) permanent hair loss has been observed.” Shirley Ledlie is a pioneer for women suffering persistent alopecia following Taxotere treatment. After experiencing no hair regrowth, Ledlie says, “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.”
Shortly afterwards, Ledlie wrote Sanofi asking how many Taxotere patients reported alopecia. In 2008, Sanofi replied with data from a follow-up study involving 496 patients. Of that cohort, seven reported prolonged alopecia at the five-year survival mark. After Ledlie requested more alopecia information in 2009, Sanofi said they were “unable to provide figures for the number of cases of alopecia associated with Taxotere reported into the company.”
Independent Studies Show Higher Taxotere Permanent Hair Loss Rates Than Previously Reported
Over the past decade, independent studies show results that clearly contradict Sanofi’s 3% rate. As a result, women filed lawsuits against Sanofi for downplaying Taxotere permanent hair loss risks and failing to adequately warn patients. A study by The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center found Taxotere permanent hair loss rates as high as 6.3%. That study emphatically warns doctors not to downplay this psychologically distressing Taxotere chemotherapy complication before treatment begins. The study 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.”
The UK’s Clatterbridge Cancer Centre found 10-15% of patients reported Taxotere permanent hair loss. In October 2013, the Centre sent questionnaires to 189 cancer survivors who received Taxotere chemotherapy in 2010. Among the 134 returned questionnaires, 15.8% mentioned significant persistent scalp hair loss. These patients had no noticeable eyebrows, eyelashes, nostril, or leg hair regrowth. “Patients’ observations confirmed a significant impact on quality of life,” wrote the study’s authors.
Clatterbridge researchers say this persistent hair loss is unique to Taxotere and can negatively impact survivors. “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 docetaxel,” the report concludes.
What You Can Do
“My new identity is a woman gripped by the physical and emotional horrors of chemotherapy-induced alopecia,” asserts cancer survivor Michelle. “If this is my cross to bear, I will bear it gladly, but I will not go quietly. The drug companies owe us answers.” Thousands of women like Michelle suffer from permanent, lasting alopecia as a result of chemo treatment with Taxotere. American patients treated with Taxotere from 2005-2015 were unaware of persistent alopecia risks. Lawsuits against Sanofi are currently pending.
If you or a loved one experienced persistent alopecia after completing Taxotere chemotherapy, you may hay an eligible claim. Get your free case review today and an attorney will determine if you may qualify for financial compensation. After submitting your information, a lawyer will call to discuss your case and potential next steps to file your claim.