Taxotere is a drug intended to fight numerous forms of cancer. However, it can also cause side effects such as alopecia, allergic reactions, liver toxicity, and even death.
What is Taxotere?
Taxotere (docataxel) is an anti-cancer chemotherapy drug that disrupts the growth and development of cancer cells in the body and is used to treat a number of different types of cancer. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat breast cancer, lung cancer, head/neck cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer. Taxotere is manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis and is the drug most commonly used to treat breast cancer. However, it can cause alopecia, or hair loss, in breast cancer survivors. It also contains a number of black box warnings for adverse reactions to the drug.
How does Taxotere work?
Cancerous tumors are characterized by cell division that is no longer controlled like normal tissue cells. A normal cell stops dividing when it contacts other similar cells. This process is known as contact inhibition. Unlike normal cells, cancerous cells lose this ability and do not have the checks and balances in place to control and limit cell division. Cells that are old or damaged and should die remain alive, and new cells grow when they are not needed. These extra cells divide and cause growths called tumors. When tumors are malignant (meaning they can threaten and invade other cells, and even travel through the bloodstream and the lymphatic system) they can lead to the growth of tumors in elsewhere in the body.
Taxotere is part of a class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes, which are derived from plant alkaloids, specifically the Pacific yew tree (taxus). Like other chemotherapy drugs, Taxotere works by stopping cancer cells from dividing and multiplying by inhibiting the cell’s microtubule structures. These structures are part of the cell’s apparatus for dividing and replicating itself. Thus, inhibiting these structures results in cell death.
The dosage of Taxotere is available in 20mg/2ml, 81mg/8ml, or 160mg/16ml depending upon the specifics of each individual patient and it is determined by the treating physician.
SIDE EFFECTS of TAXOTERE
There are a range of side effects ranging in severity — including death — from taking Taxotere, especially if it is taken in high doses. As such, the FDA has issued a black box warning for the drug.
For many women, the most troubling side effect is hair loss. In most cases, patients who experience hair loss find that it regrows within six months of completing treatment. But Taxotere can also cause permanent and irreversible hair loss (known as alopecia) on all areas of the body including pubic hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and head.
The black box warning for Taxotere includes the following life-threatening conditions:
- Abnormally low white blood cell count (Neutropenia);
- Allergic reactions
- Toxic deaths (sepsis), see below
- Liver toxicity (hepatotoxicity)
- Extreme fluid retention (peripheral edema)
The FDA also issued a safety announcement in 2014 regarding Taxotere containing alcohol and that it may cause patients to feel intoxicated. The ordered a revision of all drug labels to include this warning.
Common Side Effects
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Changes in tasting
- Muscle and joint pain
- Tiredness and weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Changes to the nails
Serious Side Effects
- Allergic reacion
- Red skin rash
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Extreme fluid retention (peripheral adema)
- Severe skin reactions
- Swelling of the ankles or feet
- Rapid weight gain
- Redness and peeling of the skin on hands and feet
- Abnormally low white blood cell count (Neutropenia)
- Toxic deaths (sepsis)
- Liver toxicity (hepatoxicity)
- Hair loss
Who is at Risk?
Cancer patients who are pregnant should not take Taxotere, as it could affect the unborn baby. Patients with a low white blood cell count are also advised against taking Taxotere. Those with liver disease, or cancer patients who have previously had a non-small cell lung cancer and have received chemotherapy treatment which contains platinum, can experience severe side effects (including death) from taking Taxotere.
Patients with a history of liver disease, alcoholism, heart disease, or fluid retention, or those sensitive to alcohol, should inform their physician of these conditions before taking Taxotere.
Evidence of Taxotere Complications
Taxotere may increase the risk of developing other types of cancer, such as leukemia, and it can affect an unborn baby if taken by a pregnant woman.
In some instances, Taxotere can cause severe side effects, including death, if used at a high dosage.
Drug Reactions with Taxotere
Taxotere should not be used in cancer patients who are taking any medication that contains polysorbate 80. It is also contraindicated in patients taking or cytochrome inducers, inhibitors, or substrates (Cytochrome is an important enzyme in the body used to metabolize some medications). Common inducers, inhibitors, and substrates include some of the following: anti-HIV drugs, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, antibiotics, steroids, anticonvulsants, herbal and dietary substances, and antifungals. To be certain there will be no interaction, a physician should be consulted.
Additionally, as Taxotere contains alcohol, it can make patients feel intoxicated or drowsy.
Last Edited: March 19, 2018
- Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC. (2015). Taxotere: Prescribing Information. http://products.sanofi.us/Taxotere/taxotere.html
- FDA. (2012). Docetaxel Injection: Full Prescribing Information. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/201525s002lbl.pdf
- NIH. (2014). FDA Approval for Docetaxel. March 2014. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/fda-docetaxel
- Drugs.com. https://www.drugs.com/taxotere.html
- Chemocare.com. http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/drug-info/Taxotere.aspx