Taxotere Side Effects
Taxotere, also known as docetaxel, is a chemotherapy medication which is used to treat several forms of cancer. The most common treatment is for breast cancer. Other forms of cancer it has been shown effective in treating include lung, stomach, prostate, head, and neck.
How is the Medication Used?
Docetaxel is an intravenous medication, which means that it is placed into the veins via an IV. This must be done by a licensed medical professional in an appropriate setting, such as a hospital. Although it may vary slightly for each unique case, the average cancer patient can expect to receive a dose of the medication every three weeks for the duration of their chemotherapy treatment.
Taxotere vs. Taxol
Taxotere was created as an option to Taxol when manufacturing processes of the drug began to deplete necessary natural resources. The two drugs are chemotherapy medications known as taxanes, and as such, are very chemically similar.
Taxol, or paclitaxel as it is also called, was the original medication, placed on the market for cancer patients in 1992. At the time, however, early studies showed an increased rate of hypersensitivity allergic reactions in comparison to similar drugs. To remedy this situation, a medication call Abraxane was developed which is less likely to cause reactions. Unfortunately, though effective it is much more expensive and often not covered by health insurance unless a reaction to paclitaxel has already been noted.
Enter Taxotere. When it first got approval from the FDA, marketing materials were passed out which claimed the drug to be superior to Taxol. The alleged reason was that it had the ability to infiltrate fast-growing cells at a higher level than Taxol. These claims have not been substantiated, however, and the manufacturer received written reprimanding from the FDA telling them to change their marketing tactics due to lack of clinical research.
What original studies did show was that Taxotere presented a slightly smaller survival rating than Taxol did. During one major study, it was found that patients taking the drug had an average survival rating of 11 months, whereas those taking Taxol had 8.3 months.
The way the medications are administered is slightly different. Although they are both given through an IV by a licensed medical professional, Taxol is administered at a lower dose once a week while Taxotere is given every three weeks.
Another difference between the two medications is that Taxotere has a drastically increased risk of permanent hair loss. Depending on the study, rates of between 2% and 15% of all patients taking the medication suffered from hair loss which lasted at least six months after ceasing the medication and encompassed at least 50% of their pre-treatment hair.
What Are the Side Effects of Taxotere?
There are a wide range of side effects, but the primary issue cited has been permanent hair loss, also called long-term alopecia in some studies. While some form of hair loss is common in chemotherapy treatments, those resulting from this medication have been proven to be permanent.
To make matters worse, numerous hair replacement therapies have been attempted on patients suffering from this condition, but to no avail. Hair replacement therapies attempted include medications, vitamins, and ultraviolet therapy, among others.
Other common side effects include:
- Diarrhea, nausea, and other digestion complaints
- Fatigue, weakness, confusion, poor cognitive abilities, and poor motor skills
- Peripheral Neuropathy (a condition which causes burning, cold sensations, numbness, and tingling in the extremities)
- Fluid Retention, primarily occurring in the lower extremities
- Renal damage or failure
- Inability to fight infections/Getting sick often
- Poor wound healing
- Nails which fall off or change color
- Aches and pains in the muscles, joints, and bones
- Watering or dry eyes
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Liver damage or failure
- Mouth sores, dryness
- Low platelet counts
- Sudden vision changes
- Redness of the feet and hands, with or without peeling skin
- Shortness of breath that may be exacerbated by exercise (including normal daily activities)
- Sweating or general feelings of being overheated
- Elevated or decreased blood pressure
- Congestion which may clear up as your body adjusts to the medication
How Long Do Taxotere Side Effects Last?
The amount of time side effects from the drug use last depends on the effects, the dosage, the person’s sensitivity, and other factors unique to each patient.
In general, however, common reactions at the site of the injection – such as redness, pain, and minor swelling – typically clear up within three days. Fevers, nausea, general digestive complaints, cognitive issues, and other common side effects tend to clear up within a week after receiving treatment.
Hair loss may be permanent. In the event it is not, however, the hair should begin to regrow within a few months of stopping the medication. Hair will not regrow, however, between doses the way other side effects may cease.
For some people, symptoms do not disappear between doses but persist until the medication is stopped entirely. Others may not experience them for longer than a few hours.
All serious side effects need to be evaluated by a medical practitioner as soon as possible, as there is a risk of toxic death or anaphylactic shock with docetaxel. Seeking immediate help can ensure that, while dangerous, these symptoms do not become lethal.
Is There a Cure for Permanent Hair Loss from Taxotere?
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for permanent hair loss resulting from treatment with the drug. Many studies are being done to better understand why the hair loss becomes permanent, so that a cure can be found. Many methods of hair replacement treatment have been tried to no avail, including numerous vitamins and medications known to assist in hair growth.
What Helps Watering Eyes from Taxotere?
Some patients have seen improvement of their watering eyes with use of over-the-counter medications, such as eye drops. Sometimes the condition persists until the treatment is finished. If watering eyes are persistent, it is best to see an eye doctor.
How to Counter Taxotere Side Effects
Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to counter the side effects of this medication. There are some things you can do to speed your recovery time both from the chemotherapy medication and the cancer it is helping to fight. These include:
- Get plenty of rest
- Stay hydrated – if nausea is persistent, only sip at water or suck on ice cubes
- Get plenty of food – nutritional drinks can help you to meet your daily needs
- Take it easy during your chemotherapy treatments
- Listen to any advice your doctor gives you
Taxotere Recovery Time
In most cases, patients will recover from the side effects between two and three months after stopping the medication. Some patients, however, may need as long as a year to fully recover. People who may require longer recovery times include those who were given docetaxel alongside other chemotherapy medications, and those who have undergone chemotherapy prior. Cancer patients who had the drug administered for an extended period or in very high doses may also need longer.
Some side effects may be permanent. Permanent hair loss, for example, will persist even after other side effects subside. Weight loss or weight gain may be difficult to remedy but working on a plan with your oncologist should help.
Claims against Sanofi, the manufacturer of the drug, are that their negligence has caused many cancer survivors the burden and heartache of permanent hair loss. Lawsuits allege that by hiding the fact that early trials showed high rates of long-term alopecia among other side effects, patients were not given full information that would help them prepare for what may occur.
There have already been more than 1,500 lawsuits filed against the company alleging the company showed a blatant disregard for patient’s health, safety, and happiness. While permanent hair loss has been the primary issue cited, there are incidences of other side effects being presented in these lawsuits.
If you believe that you or a loved one might qualify for a lawsuit due to Sanofi’s negligence with their medication, Drugwatcher offers free case reviews.