Taxotere is the brand name for a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for the treatment of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer and gastric cancer. It may be used alone or in combination with other drugs to combat tumors and to treat cancer. The World Health Organization considers docetaxel an essential medicine that all basic health systems should have.
Although this medication has been important in treating many types of cancer, there are some serious adverse effects and some of these have led to lawsuits. One of these is hair loss that can be permanent. While many chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, most women and men undergoing such treatment expect their hair to eventually grow back. For some, that may not be the case with Taxotere and these patients feel they were never warned of this possibility.
What is Taxotere?
Taxotere is the generic drug docetaxel, which is also sold under the brand name Docecad. It is an FDA-approved drug for chemotherapy treatments, a drug-based cancer treatment that aims to kill cancer cells and shrink or eliminate tumors. It is an injectable drug that can be used in combination or alone. Taxotere is administered in a medical setting like a hospital or doctor’s office and is dosed intravenously over the course of about an hour. Taxotere was developed by the French company Sanofi-Aventis, now called Sanofi S.A. The patent ran out about a decade ago and docetaxel is available now under other names and brands.
Uses and How It Works
The FDA first approved Taxotere in 1996 for treating certain types of cancer. Chemotherapy is often used to treat a wide variety of cancers, but not every medication is approved for all types. Taxotere is approved for use in treating breast cancer that has advanced locally, metastasized, or has not improved with other types of chemotherapy drugs, in a certain type of advanced gastric cancer, non-small cell lung cancer if the tumor is locally advanced or metastasized, in prostate cancer that doesn’t respond to hormone treatment, and in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck that has advanced locally or can’t be operated on.
Taxotere works to treat cancer and tumors by inhibiting cells from growing and spreading. More specifically, Taxotere stops the process of cells dividing and multiplying, called mitosis. It may also combat tumors by causing cancer cells to die. Taxotere is largely effective at increasing the survival time of patients with certain types of cancer, from three months up to five years and more.
Common Side Effects
All chemotherapy drugs come with side effects, some very uncomfortable. This is because they are essentially poisonous to living cells, both cancer cells and healthy cells. While they can target cancer cells to some degree, most people undergoing chemotherapy will experience the death of healthy cells and this leads to side effects.
The most common and mild side effects reported with Taxotere include a strange sense of taste, muscle pain, hair loss, constipation, diarrhea, weakness, a skin rash, changes in the fingernails or toenails, nausea, vomiting, and a loss of appetite. Many patients consider these well worth the benefits of battling cancer.
There are also some commonly reported side effects of Taxotere that are more troubling, like lowered levels of white blood cells, lowered platelet count in the blood, difficulty breathing, infections, nerve damage, and anorexia. Although these are more serious, many patients and doctors still consider the risks to be outweighed by benefits.
Black Box Warnings
In addition to the more common side effects, Taxotere may cause some that are potentially very serious. These are included in a black box warning, the type of warning used by the FDA to indicate the most severe and possibly life-threatening side effects of a medication. One of these warnings is that patients with liver damage or abnormal liver function are at a greater risk of dying while being treated with Taxotere.
Fluid retention is another serious side effect because it can be severe. Severe fluid retention can cause serious complications depending on where it occurs it he body. In the brain, fluid retention is life-threatening, for example. Fluid retention can also cause high blood pressure, which also causes serious complications.
Finally, the black box on Taxotere warns of the possibility of some patients being hypersensitive to it. This can lead to a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can quickly lead to death if not treated as a medical emergency.
Permanent Hair Loss
Of all the potential side effects and complications of Taxotere, it might seem that hair loss, also called alopecia, would be of less concern. The problem is that this drug may cause hair loss that is permanent. For women, this is especially problematic and many who experienced this side effect claim that they never knew that permanent hair loss was possible.
Because one of the indications for treatment with Taxotere is breast cancer, many of the patients who lost hair permanently were women. The incidence of persistent or permanent hair loss in patients treated with this drug has been reported to be as high as ten to fifteen percent. Although Taxotere has been on the market since 1996, it was not until several years later that the possibility of permanent hair loss was reported in the literature.
Permanent hair loss is not something anyone wants to face, but it can be especially devastating for women. It can lead to embarrassment, lower self-esteem or self-confidence, a diminished social life or harmed relationships, and can even cause a woman to become more withdrawn and to resist participating in anything from social events to work. Simply put, losing hair permanently negatively affects quality of life.
Many of the women who experienced permanent alopecia from treatment with Taxotere claim that they didn’t know that this side effect was a possibility. Many doctors were unaware of the risk as well. Lawsuits are being filed against the maker of Taxotere for failing to warn patients about risks. Plaintiffs may also claim that the company promoted the drug, knowing what the risks were and knowing that Taxotere was likely not more effective than a lower-potency, similar drug called Taxol.
If plaintiffs and their representation can make the case against Sanofi S.A., they may be able to win compensation that will in small part make up for the loss of hair. If you experienced permanent or long-lasting alopecia on Taxotere, you may also want to make your case in court or through a settlement. Let a lawyer help you decide if you have a case against the drug maker and what to do next.