TAXOTERE & PERMANENT HAIR LOSS: WOMEN CANCER PATIENTS NOT INFORMED OF THE RISK
THE SIDE EFFECT OF PERMANENT LONG-TERM ALOPECIA NOT MADE CLEAR
According to Breastcancer.org, about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. These are frightening statistics.
Chemotherapy is a frequent treatment option for breast cancer. One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. This side effect is usually temporary and goes away after treatment is complete.
However, patients that have taken the chemotherapy drug Taxotere (docetaxel) may find that their hair loss is not temporary after all. Research suggests that Taxotere causes permanent hair loss (alopecia) more often than disclosed.
OTHER CHEMOTHERAPY DRUG JUST AS EFFECTIVE WITHOUT THE RISKING PERMANENT HAIR LOSS
Taxotere manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis, alleges that long-term alopecia–permanent hair loss–only occurs in about three percent of patients. This differs from the findings of other studies, which identified a higher risk of permanent baldness.
Dr. Scot Sedlacek, an oncologist at The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Colorado, conducted a study showing that the rate of long-term alopecia was as high as 6.3 percent when Taxotere was given in combination with the drugs Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cyclophosphamide (aka cytophosphane). In 2013, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in the United Kingdom found that 15.8 percent (21 out of 134) of Taxotere patients suffered significant persistent scalp hair loss.
Both studies acknowledged the emotional impact of alopecia. The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center concluded that, “Such an emotionally devastating long-term toxicity from this combination must be taken into account when deciding on adjuvant chemotherapy programs in women who likely will be cured of their breast cancer.”
The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre expressed a similar opinion, noting the importance of informing patients. “Long term hair loss has a significant impact on quality of survival. The risk should be discussed routinely (as part of the process of informed consent) with all patients embarking upon Taxotere as a component of management of early breast cancer.”
Often when patients learn of all possible risks, they may decide to discuss other options with their physician. One such alternative is the drug Paclitaxel.
Hugues Bourgeois, a French oncologist, recommends Paclitaxel as an alternative to Taxotere for his patients. This drug is shown to be just as effective as Taxotere, but has a “negligible percentage of Persistent Significant Alopecia,” he says. Permanent baldness may also be mitigated by the use of a cold cap device.
“It’s like having ‘I am a cancer sufferer’ tattooed on your forehead.”
Shirley Ledlie is a cancer survivor, and author of the book Naked in the Wind, which documents her struggle with facing permanent baldness following the use of Taxotere. Nine years ago, she also helped found the website “A Head of our Time,” which has become “a thriving community of monk lookalikes around the world. We even have two members who discovered they were patients at the same clinic with the same oncologist – who told them both he had never seen it happen before!”
When Shirley was completing her breast cancer treatment, she was eager for her new life ahead of her; however, the Telegraph reports, she soon learned that “something had gone drastically wrong with my hair follicles during treatment. What was supposed to be a temporary side-effect was actually going to be a permanent disfiguring feature in my life. I left the clinic that day in total denial and devoid of any femininity.”
“It’s like having ‘I am a cancer sufferer tattooed on your forehead…I look like an 80-year-old, ugly old man.” Ledlie said, according to The Globe and Mail. “We want every woman who’s been offered Taxotere to know it is a possibility, so it is her choice whether to take the risk or not.”
At the San Antonio Breast Cancer symposium, Dr. Bourgeois presented research on 82 patients showing that not all doctors warn of alopecia caused by Taxotere use. “Some women look bad, they look ill, they look like they are fighting cancer,” he said, according to The Globe and Mail. “It has an important impact on quality of life.”