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Taxotere Hair Loss

Cancer survivors often owe their lives to advanced pharmaceutical medications, but at least one chemotherapy drug has been tied to an unexpected result – permanent baldness. Short-term hair loss is an expected side effect of many cancer treatments, but permanent alopecia is not. Some patients are claiming that treatment with Taxotere (Docetaxel), manufactured by French drug maker Sanofi S.A., has caused them to go permanently bald — a potentially catastrophic condition for women.

It is argued that Sanofi, through misleading marketing, led cancer patients to believe that their hair would grow back after Taxotere treatment was finished, when they allegedly knew that rates of permanent hair loss were quite high.

Taxotere permanent alopecia

The FDA approved Taxotere in 1996 to treat patients with locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer which did not respond to prior chemotherapy. Taxotere has also been prescribed for several off-label uses that were not approved by U.S. health regulators.

All pharmaceutical products sold in the United States must carry sufficient warnings regarding potential side effects and risks. However, patients who took Taxotere in the U.S. were not privy to such crucial information. The only warning given to physicians and consumers stated that “hair generally grows back” after taking Taxotere.

On the contrary, Sanofi cautioned regulatory agencies, doctors and patients in Canada and the EU that Taxotere causes an “increased risk of permanent hair loss” based on prior studies and anecdotal evidence. All Taxotere information in the U.S. is void of terms like “permanent alopecia” or “permanent hair loss” – a lapse that is likely to incite wide scale litigation.

How likely is permanent hair loss after Taxotere?

  • According to the manufacturer’s own research, the risk of permanent alopecia with Taxotere is around 3 percent.
  • An oncologist based in Denver found that 6.3 percent of his Taxotere patients experienced permanent hair loss.
  • Several chemo drug studies suggest that 10 to 15 percent of cancer patients may suffer from permanent alopecia following treatment with Taxotere.

Taxotere and hair loss: what does the science say?

The GEICAM 9805 study, conducted by a Spanish non-profit scientific cooperative group in 2005, showed that that 9.2 percent of chemo patients who took Taxotere experienced permanent hair loss, some for as many as 10 years after receiving the drug.

Additional research published in the Oxford Journal Annals of Oncology determined that “permanent and severe alopecia is a newly reported complication of the FEC 100–docetaxel breast cancer regimen.” The study included 20 breast cancer patients, and noted the distressing psychological consequences experienced by women.

Docetaxel chemotherapy was associated with persistent and significant scalp alopecia in up to 15 percent of patients following docetaxel treatment for early breast cancer, according to the Clatterbridge Cancer Center in the UK. Doctors sent out nearly 190 questionnaires to women who received Taxotere treatment, and analyzed 134 responses. Their conclusion: Taxotere long term hair loss has a measurable impact on quality of survival. The scientists also noted that this risk should be discussed openly and routinely with all patients who are about to embark on chemotherapy treatment.

Other docetaxel side effects

Taxotere is administered through an IV, generally once every 3 weeks. Like all drugs, docetaxel can cause adverse reactions and side effects, with some more common than others.

Common Taxotere side effects:

  • Anemia
  • Headaches
  • Runny nose
  • Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
  • Bruising and bleeding
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Fluid retention
  • Weight gain
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Neutropenia
  • Severe leukopenia
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Temporary hair loss
  • Changes in sense of taste
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Nail pigmentation changes
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal upset

The following docetaxel side effects are less common:

  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Rattled, labored breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Blood in urine
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Chest tightness
  • Painful urination

Living with permanent baldness from Taxotere

After enduring more than a year of grueling breast cancer treatment, Shirley Ledlie was anticipating getting back to her normal, everyday life. She, like dozens of others who were given Taxotere chemotherapy, discovered that her hair follicles had been completely destroyed during the treatment. Ledlie says that she wasn’t warned about the potential side effect of permanent alopecia. “It’s like having ‘I am a cancer sufferer’ tattooed on your forehead. … I look like an 80-year-old, ugly old man,” she told The Globe and Mail. Ledlie laments that this supposedly temporary side effect has become a disfiguring feature in her life, stripping her of any femininity.

Sadly, Ledlie’s experiences are not unique. Fifty-year old Cynthia MacGregor of Montreal says she was left looking ill many months after her treatment was finished. Upon completion of her Taxotere chemotherapy, MacGregor was given a devastating diagnosis of alopecia universalis, which means total body hair loss.

Oklahoma resident Pamela Kirby, age 58, was given Taxotere in 2007 and now wishes she was given a choice in chemotherapy treatments. She was left with a dusting of peach fuzz, but no discernable hair re-growth.

All three women are discovering that surviving cancer with Taxotere may come at a hefty cost. Women diagnosed with permanent baldness after cancer treatment must grapple with severe and debilitating emotional distress, and oftentimes a reduced quality of life.

Some of these brave survivors are taking their claims to court, arguing that Sanofi S.A. failed to provide adequate warnings and information related to the increased risks of permeant alopecia. A Taxotere lawsuit, based on claims of strict products liability and negligence, may seek monetary relief for medical expenses, lost earnings, emotional anguish and much more. At this time, litigation is just starting to be filed in the United States, as more women learn about Taxotere and hair loss.

Taxotere permanent hair loss resources

  1. American Journal of Dermatopathology, Permanent alopecia after systemic chemotherapy: a clinicopathological study of 10 cases
  2. The Telegraph, I survived cancer – but drugs left me with permanent alopecia
  3. Annals of Oncology, Permanent scalp alopecia related to breast cancer chemotherapy by sequential fluorouracil/epirubicin/cyclophosphamide (FEC) and docetaxel: a prospective study of 20 patients
  4. A Head of Our Time, Living with Persistent Chemo-Induced Alopecia
  5., Taxotere
  6. 2014 NCRI Cancer Conference, Long Term Hair Loss in Patients with Early Breast Cancer Receiving Docetaxel Chemotherapy