Taxotere Continuing Hair Loss Problems Experienced Long After Chemotherapy, Lawsuit Alleges

Although Sanofi-Aventis knew or should have known about a risk of continuing hair loss from Taxotere that is not associated with alternative breast cancer treatments, a recently filed lawsuit indicates that the drug maker failed to warn that women may experience hair problems long after chemotherapy.

In a complaint (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Californian on November 18, Therese Martinez indicates that she has been disfigured by the chemotherapy drug, and would have elected to use another treatment if warnings had been provided about the potential for continuing Taxotere hair problems reported by many users of the breast cancer drug.

Taxotere (docetaxel) is a high potency taxane-based cancer drug, which was introduced by Sanofi-Aventis in 1996 as an alternative to existing low-potency taxanes, such as Taxol. However, Martinez alleges that Taxotere is no more effective at treating breast cancer, yet carries a risk of permanent alopecia, or hair loss that may continue long after last use of the drug, which is not associated with low-potency taxanes.

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“Although women might accept the possibility of permanent baldness as a result of the use of [Taxotere] if no other product were available to treat their cancer, this was not the case,” states Martinez in the complaint. “Before Defendants’ wrongful conduct resulted in thousands of women being exposed to side effects of [Taxotere], there were already similar products on the market that were at least as effective as [Taxotere] and did not subject female users to the same risk of disfiguring permanent alopecia as does [Taxotere].”

The case joins a growing number of similar Taxotere lawsuits filed on behalf of women nationwide who have experienced continuing hair loss, indicating that women who experience the disfiguring permanent alopecia commonly suffer great mental anguish, as well as economic damages due to loss of work or inability to work due to the psychological damage.

While Taxotere warnings in several other countries were updated to include information about the risk of permanent baldness, that same information was not provided to American women and doctors.

As early as 2005, studies found that women face a substantial risk of permanent hair loss with Taxotere, including findings that indicate one out of every 10 patients treated with Taxotere suffered hair loss that lasted up to 10 years and five months following chemotherapy, and in some cases longer.

Martinez’s lawsuit states that Sanofi-Aventis victimized women already undergoing the trauma of breast cancer treatment by not informing them of the risks of permanent hair loss.

“Defendants preyed on one of the most vulnerable groups of individuals at the most difficult time in their lives,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants obtained billions of dollars in increased revenues at the expense of unwary cancer victims simply hoping to survive their condition and return to a normal life.”

Last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ordered all Taxotere hair loss cases filed in federal courts nationwide consolidated before U.S. District Judge Lance Africk in the Eastern District of Louisiana for 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 hair loss problems, avoiding the need for dozens of individual trails in courts throughout the U.S.


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