Hair Loss as A Result of Using Taxotere
Taxotere is an intravenous chemotherapy drug used primarily in the treatment of breast cancer. It is also used in the treatment of certain types of lung cancer, stomach cancer, prostate cancer, as well as those affecting the head or neck region. Taxotere is a brand name of the generic drug Docetaxel.
Patients receive the treatment through an IV by a medical professional. Typically, it is given at a cancer center, although this could be a special section or ward in any given hospital. Most patients can expect to receive doses every three weeks, but it could vary based on your exact treatment plan.
Cancer is a disease where cells begin to rapidly divide without stopping in any specific area of the body. These cells can then move from the areas they are supposed to be and invade other regions of the body. Not only do they invade, but the cancerous cells start to destroy healthy tissues. This can include organs.
When a primary cancer begins to metastasize, it means that the disease is spreading to another region of the body. This can cause a secondary cancer, in which another part of the body has been affected. For example, a person with primary breast cancer could end up with secondary lung or neck cancer because of their disease metastasizing.
Why Is Taxotere Prescribed in Such Large Numbers?
Taxotere, or docetaxel, is prescribed to approximately 75% of all breast cancer patients. The reason it is so widely prescribed is because ongoing research has shown promising results. The medication showed a higher survival rate when placed against other available chemotherapy drugs. Not only this, but it also proved to have survivors with longer lifespans comparatively.
Permanent Hair Loss Known Side Effect, But Hidden by Sanofi
Early research indicated very high rates of life-long alopecia in people who took docetaxel, with rates higher in female breast cancer patients than in other population taking the medication.
Alopecia is a medical term which means hair loss. It translates literally to mean loss of hair, thinning of hair, or baldness of any area which normally contains hair. This includes not only the scalp, but also eyebrows, lashes, under the arms, or on the legs, among other places.
Sanofi, the manufacturer of Taxotere, buried the information showing as much as 9% of breast cancer patients suffered permanent hair loss in their trial studies. This was allegedly done so the company could boost their sales, thus making a higher profit.
Since patients were not told of the high possibility of permanent hair loss, they were unable to properly prepare themselves. This has caused significant emotional distress in many patients who will now never regrow their hair when they have completed their chemotherapy treatment.
Original Study by Sanofi (2003)
The original study done by Sanofi to assure the effectiveness of their drug, was done in 2003 by GEICAM 9805. The study was conducted on 1,060 people split into two smaller control groups. Each group was randomly chosen to be given either the medication, or a placebo. Patients were not told who was given what.
The results showed that an incredible 9.2% of those included in the study had hair loss which lasted at least ten years. This information, however, did not make it into the paperwork filed for FDA approval. Therefore, permanent hair loss was not originally listed as a possible side effect of the medication.
After the drug was on the market, additional studies were done which confirmed the original findings. These two clinical studies, done in 2006 and 2012 respectively, are discussed more below.
Clinical Study by Doctor Sedlacek (2006)
A clinical study was undertaken by Doctor Scott Sedlacek, who is an oncologist with the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, located in Denver, Colorado (United States). This was the first major study done focused exclusively on finding a connection between Taxotere and permanent hair loss in cancer patients.
Conducted in 2006, the study was looking specifically for what is known as Persistent Significant Alopecia, also known as PSA for short. For the study, Doctor Sedlacek defined PSA as at least 50% hair loss or thinning that persisted for a minimum of 6 months after ceasing treatment.
The data for this study came directly from patients that Doctor Sedlacek had treated himself, over the course of about eleven years. To ensure that the results were not compromised, he excluded data from any patients who did not receive a minimum of one-year follow-up care after their chemotherapy treatment with Taxotere had been completed.
The results conclusively proved that at least 6% of all patients who had been prescribed Taxotere suffered from Persistent Significant Alopecia.
A third major study was conducted in France during 2012. It was published in the Annals of Oncology by Doctors Kluger, Jacot, Rigau, Poujol, Dereure, Gulliot, Romieu, and Bessis in May 2012.
This study followed twenty women who took docetaxel as part of their breast cancer treatment. Only one of these women did not suffer from hair loss of any form. The other nineteen did, with some participants even losing their eyebrows and lashes.
What was even more disconcerting was that these women then tried various methods to regrow the hair which had been lost, but with disappointing results. No method of hair regrowth therapy yielded any results whatsoever. Items which were tested included vitamins, medications, and ultraviolet therapy.
Why is Permanent Hair Loss Such a Big Deal?
Some people may not understand why permanent hair loss is such a big deal, but for those who are currently suffering from the condition, the consequence is all too real.
For many patients who finally hear the news that they are cancer free, the reality does not set in until they regrow their hair. It is a visual reminder that their lives have once again regained some form of normalcy after a battle which is trying to both the body and the mind.
When cancer patients find they are unable to regrow their hair once chemotherapy ends, many survivors find themselves feeling angry, upset, frustrated, and depressed. Their lack of hair then becomes a permanent scar left behind by the cancer and subsequent treatment. This is not good for the already thinly stretched mental health of people who have just fought bravely for the right to live. In turn, this can lead to anxiety, and a host of other mental illnesses.
When Does the Hair Fall Out?
Hair typically falls out within two to three weeks of beginning the medication. Although it does not occur with all patients treated with docetaxel, it does occur in an overwhelming majority of approximately 75.8%. The risk of hair loss is increased in patients who are simultaneously taking a secondary chemotherapy drug, or those who have previously undergone chemotherapy.
Why Does Hair Fall Out After Taking Taxotere?
Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting any fast-growing cells within the body, since cancer cells rapidly split and multiply. Unfortunately, these medications target ALL fast-growing cells in the body, and not just the bad ones. Hair cells are fast growing, and the medications can not tell them apart from cancerous growths.
While it is possible for this to occur in all chemotherapy medications, scientists are still unsure as to why the hair loss becomes permanent in those taking docetaxel. There are many hypotheses, but thus far none have proven true.
Different Types of Hair Loss (Permanent, Temporary, & Thinning)
There are several types of hair loss associated with taking Taxotere or the generic docetaxel medication. These include permanent, temporary, and thinning.
Permanent hair loss is the one which has caused so many people to file lawsuits against Sanofi. This is a type of hair loss where the fast-growing hair cells have been entirely eradicated, causing irrevocable damage. The hair does not ever grow back, even after the medication has stopped. Patients must rely on wigs, hats, and other head coverings to take the place of their natural hair. Unfortunately, hair replacement therapies do not show any promise for hair lost through this chemotherapy treatment.
Temporary hair loss is what happens with many other chemotherapy treatments. The hair falls out within a few weeks of beginning to take the medication and does not regrow during the use. After a few months of stopping the medicine, however, the hair begins to grow back. Sometimes the hair is not quite as full as it was pre-chemo, but many times it comes back just as full and healthy as before.
Thinning hair is when the hair does not fall out completely but may fall out in patches or the strands may not be as full as they once were. This condition can either be permanent or temporary. It is easier to hide than complete hair loss and will vary in severity. Some patients will note their hair is only a little thinner while being treated with docetaxel, while others will have hair which is so thin they decide to shave their heads and start over.
When Does It Grow Back If Not Permanent?
If the hair loss associated with being treated with the drug is not permanent, patients can expect to see their hair begin to regrow somewhere between a few weeks to a few months after stopping the treatment. Once the hair begins to regrow, it should be a full head of hair within a month. Length of any considerable amount may take a significant amount of time, however.
Other Taxotere Side Effects
Although permanent hair loss is the main side effect cited in the lawsuits currently being presented, there were a lot of others. At least 30% of all Taxotere patients suffered from at least one of the following side effects:
- Diarrhea, nausea, and other stomach maladies
- Fatigue, weakness, and a general feeling of being “out of it”
- Peripheral Neuropathy – a condition which presents with numbness, tingling, burning, cold sensations, and other nervous system disruptions in both the hands and feet; occasionally other parts of the body are also afflicted
- Mouth sores, dry mouth, and chapped lips
- Nails which fall off or change colors from their normal pigments
- Fluid retention, with or without renal complications and/or failure
- Infection, difficulty fighting infections, and poor wound healing
- Problems with the liver
- Pain in the bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments
- Low platelet counts
- Sudden changes in vision
- Redness, with or without peeling skin, on the hands and/or feet
- Confusion, or a sense of feeling foggy
- Poor coordination and motor skills
- Shortness of breath, which may worsen during walking
- Taxotere is prescribed to about 75% of all breast cancer patients
- 75.8% of all people who are treated with the drug will suffer hair loss of some kind
- 1,500 lawsuits have been filed by people alleging to suffer permanent hair loss
- A 2006 clinical study showed that 6% of patients prescribed Taxotere suffered Persistent Significant Alopecia
- The study performed by Sanofi itself showed significant hair loss in 9.2% of patients
- At least 30% of all users of the drug suffer from some form of side effect
- A 2012 study showed that 19 of 20 women using the drug for breast cancer treatment suffered some form of permanent hair loss
Taxotere Law Suits
Many cancer patients must now suffer with permanent hair loss allegedly due to the negligence of Sanofi. The saddest part is that early trials of the drug showed positive evidence that long-term alopecia presented in high rates in those who took the medication. Taxotere Lawsuits claim that Sanofi showed a disregard for patient’s health and well-being when they buried this information to boost their own sales at the expense of others.
Already over 1,500 lawsuits have been filed against Sanofi for its hair loss side effects, and the numbers continue to mount as more people come forward with their allegations.
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