The chemotherapy drug Taxotere has been linked to a risk of permanent hair loss. The manufacturer is accused of negligence for failing to warn patients about this risk until the FDA ordered label updates.
Taxotere is the brand-name for docetaxel, a potent “last resort” anti-cancer medication that is used in combination with other medications to treat metastatic cancer after other treatments have failed.
What Can I Expect?
Like all chemotherapy drugs, Taxotere is very toxic and causes hair loss because it attacks healthy hair follicles as well as cancer cells. Patients may experience:
- Gradual thinning of the hair at the crown
- Clumps of hair falling out when shampooing or brushing
- Hairs on the pillow in the morning
- Hair is weak, brittle, and breaks easily
- Regrown hair is a different color or texture
- Hair never regrows longer than 10-cm
What is the problem?
In December 2015, the FDA updated the label to warn that cases of permanent hair loss had been associated with Taxotere. The cases are unusual because hair normally regrows within 3-6 months after chemotherapy ends.
Illinois Woman Files Taxotere Hair Loss Lawsuit
Sanofi-Aventis, the manufacturer of Taxotere, was hit with a federal lawsuit (PDF) in Illinois on March 10, 2016 (Case No. 1:16-cv-03038). The plaintiff is a breast cancer survivor who was treated with Taxotere.
Sanofi-Aventis is accused of negligence for selling a defective medication and failing to warn about side effects. She says she would have considered other treatments if she had been provided adequate warnings about permanent hair loss. According to the complaint:
“There were already similar products on the market that were at least as effective as Taxotere and did not subject female users to the same risk of disfiguring permanent alopecia as does Taxotere.”
What is the problem?
A growing number of lawsuits claim that Sanofi-Aventis knew or should have known about the risk of permanent hair loss based on data from their own studies. In the 1990s, the drug-maker sponsored a study known as GEICAM 9805. By 2005, researchers knew that 9.2% of patients (49 women) who were given Taxotere plus other chemotherapy drugs experienced hair loss that persisted or worsened during the 10-year follow-up period.
What Evidence Have Other Studies Found?
In December 2006, an oncologist named Dr. Scott Sedlacek presented a study at the Annual San Antonio Breast cancer Symposium. He warned that up to 6.3% of women who were given Taxotere in conjunction with Adriamycin (docorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide).
More recently, the Annals of Oncology published a report on 20 women who were diagnosed with permanent hair loss. The hair loss resembled male-pattern androgenic alopecia. All treatments failed to regrow hair — including vitamins, Rogaine (minoxidil), psoralen plus ultraviolet A therapy, and spironolactone.