Five fatalities linked to the use of docetaxel (the chemical compound marketed as Taxotere) have occurred in France between August 2016 and February 2017. The French National Drug and Health Product Safety Agency sent a letter to oncologists across the country in February, informing them of the pattern, although the product was not discontinued in the majority of cancer treatment facilities in the country.
In all five cases, the deaths were caused by neutropenic enterocolitis, also known as necrotizing enterocolitis or ileocecal syndrome, which stemmed from a side effect of the chemotherapy drug Taxotere. Taxotere is highly associated with the blood disorder neutropenia. In neutropenia, a particular kind of white blood cell, the neutrophil, is depleted because the bone marrow in the body is attacked by the chemotherapy drug. The bone marrow is responsible for replenishing the body’s supply of this particular white blood cell, the neutrophil, which defends the body from disease and infection. Without the neutrophil, the body is more vulnerable to these infections.
In addition, chemotherapy drugs such as Taxotere target cells which divide quickly and aggressively, such as cancer cells. Unfortunately, mucous cells in the body that coat and protect the mouth and digestive system also divide and replace themselves very quickly, and so these cells are often destroyed by chemotherapy treatments. This can lead to ulcers.
The exact cause of neutropenic enterocolitis, the condition that killed these five cancer patients who received Taxotere, is not completely transparent to doctors, although they know that mucous membranes of the large intestine become inflamed, possibly due to bacterial infection which eventually overwhelms the body. Lack of neutrophils, which fight infections, allows the bacteria to spread unchecked, as do the ulcers caused by low levels of mucous. These factors, combined with “an imbalance in the intestinal flora, and decreased cecal blood circulation…promotes rapid microbial growth and bacterial translocation.”
After the first three deaths, the French National Drug and Health Product Safety Agency tested the docetaxel (Taxotere) for contamination and found that the product was “fully in accordance with the standards.” Thus, they did not halt the use of Taxotere in France, although they did launch an investigation to determine the cause of the frequent fatalities. The Institut Curie, in Paris, has replaced their use of Taxotere with an alternative, paclitaxel (usually marketed as Taxol).
Both docetaxel (Taxotere) and paclitaxel (Taxol) are used in the United States, most often to treat breast cancer which has spread from the point of origin into lymph nodes or multiple tumors. Although Taxotere was originally marketed as superior to Taxol, research shows that the two produce nearly identical rates of survival. In addition, Taxotere can cause permanent hair loss in 3-15% of patients, according to different studies, a common side effect that was not disclosed to thousands of women who have been given the drug and now live with a constant reminder of their illness.
If you or a loved one have experienced unexpected permanent hair loss due to Taxotere, and were not informed about risks or alternatives, there is still time to file a lawsuit and join over 700 other women in a pending multidistrict litigation against Sanofi-Aventis, Inc., the company that manufactures the majority of Taxotere used in the United States. For more information, contact trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian, seasoned veterans of medical malpractice litigation, at (800) 529-6162 or contact them online.