Taxotere (docetaxel) is a drug that is manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis for use in treating a number of different types of cancer. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, approved Taxotere for the treatment of breast cancer. It has since been discovered that Taxotere can cause permanent hair loss.
An expected side effect of cancer treatment drugs is temporary alopecia, or hair loss. Patients are advised of that side effect before treatment begins, and are advised that the hair will grow back. Once Taxotere was approved for breast cancer treatment, doctors began using it aggressively in advanced breast cancer that did not respond to other treatments, and in early and advanced breast cancer that had spread. The patients were warned of temporary hair loss before treatment, but were not informed that it could be permanent. The reason they were not informed is that Sanofi did not include that fact in its Prescribing Information for physicians.
As a result of the permanent hair loss, many women have filed lawsuits against the company. They allege that Sanofi knew permanent hair loss occurred at a higher rate than it claimed, and the company attempted to downplay that fact. Had the women been informed, they could have chosen a different drug. Those lawsuits are currently pending in a number of states.
There are many breast cancer survivors that do not agree with the lawsuits. They believe that the women are alive because of the drug, and that the manufacturer should not be sued. Many comments on social media and in forums include the words “be thankful you are alive and leave it alone” and “hair loss is a small price to pay”. Those women don’t get it, maybe because the majority of them did not suffer permanent hair loss.
So why does it matter? The number one reason is that Sanofi-Aventis, a global pharmaceutical company, cared more about its profits than it did for the patients that would use its drug. It is almost a certainty that women would not have chosen Taxotere if: 1) they had been informed of the risk of permanent hair loss; and, 2) had been informed there was another drug available that works just as well and does not result in permanent hair loss.
The second reason is the major effect that hair loss has on a woman’s mental health. An article titled “Sociological study examines the importance of hair” was written in 2004 by Rose Weitz, Women’s Studies and Sociology professor at Arizona State University. In the article, Weitz stated, “”It is personal, growing directly out of our bodies. It is public, on view for all to see. And it is malleable, allowing us to change it more or less at whim. As a result, it’s not surprising that we use our hair to project our identity and that others see our hair as a reflection of our identity.” When women lose their hair, they lose a part of their identity. Every aspect of their lives is affected in one way or another.
The lawsuits are not only about compensating the women who suffered permanent hair loss, they are about punishing Sanofi-Aventis for their uncaring greed! Huge pharmaceutical companies should not be allowed to put profits over the well-being of the very people its drugs are supposed to help.