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After undergoing chemotherapy for treatment of breast cancer, a California woman has filed a lawsuit against Sanofi-Aventis that alleges side effects of Taxotere left her with permanent and disfiguring alopecia, despite indications made by the drug maker that hair would grow back following treatment.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Karen Lawrence in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on March 7, indicating that the drug maker knew or should have known that the risk of permanent hair loss was greater with Taxotere than other, equally effective breast cancer treatments, yet provided false and misleading information to consumers and the medical community.
Lawrence received Taxotere for treatment of breast cancer in 2010. Although alopecia is a known side effect of chemotherapy, the drug maker indicated that the hair loss is temporary, according to the lawsuit. However, Lawrence indicates that she continues to suffer from alopecia years later.
Sanofi-Aventis introduced Taxotere (docetaxel) in 1996, as a high potency taxane-based cancer drug. Although it was marketed as a superior alternative to existing low-potency taxanes, such as Taxol, Lawrence indicates that studies show it is no more effective, yet causes women to face an increased risk of hair loss and balding that may be permanent.
Although the drug maker allegedly knew about the Taxotere permanent baldness risk, Lawrence maintains that Sanofi-Aventis wrongfully withheld information from physicians, healthcare providers, patients and the public.
“Despite Defendants’ knowledge of the relevant findings of [a 2005 study], as well as reports from patients who had taken Taxotere and suffered permanent disfiguring hair loss, Defendants failed to provide accurate information and proper warnings to physicians, healthcare providers and patients in the United States, including Plaintiff, that patients who take Taxotere are at a significant increased risk of suffering from permanent disfiguring hair loss,” according to allegations raised in the complaint.
Lawrence joins a growing number of women nationwide who have filed similar Taxotere alopecia lawsuits, pursuing damages for hair problems that often results in great mental anguish, as well as economic damages due to inability to work or engage in other daily activities due to the psychological damage.
While Taxotere warnings in several other countries were previously updated to include information about the risk of permanent baldness, that same information was not provided to American women and doctors, according to the complaint.
“Defendants chose to withhold this information in the United States despite advising physicians, patients and regulatory agencies in other countries, including the European Union and Canada, that Taxotere causes an increased risk of permanent disfiguring hair loss,” according to the lawsuit filed by Lawrence. “Defendants instead continued to warn or advise physicians, healthcare providers, patients and Plaintiff in the United States only with the generic, vague and insufficient warning that ‘hair generally grows back’ after taking Taxotere.”
In October 2016, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all cases over Taxotere alopecia side effects filed in federal courts nationwide, centralizing the lawsuits before one judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
It is likely that a small group of cases will be prepared for early “bellwether” trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and expert testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. While the outcome of such early trials will not be binding in other cases, they may help the parties reach Taxotere settlements for women suffering permanent baldness or hair loss problems, avoiding the need for dozens of individual trials in courts throughout the U.S.