Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment, especially breast cancer, wherein a drug or a combination of drugs are used to kill or destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be given intravenously, through a shot or it may be taken orally.
Though there are times when chemotherapy is the only cancer treatment used, there are also instances when it is used along with radiation therapy or surgery. But while radiation therapy or surgery kill cancer cells only in a certain area, chemotherapy works throughout the whole body, killing or slowing the growth, especially, of cancer cells that have metastasized or spread to parts beyond the breast/s. If chemotherapy is done before a radiation therapy or surgery (for the purpose of shrinking a tumor), it is called “neoadjuvant therapy,” while a chemotherapy treatment given after surgery, (for the purpose of killing remaining cancer cells), is called “adjuvant therapy.”
Besides shrinking tumors and killing remaining cancer cells, other goals of chemo treatment include; curing the cancer; keeping the cancer from spreading; slowing the cancer’s growth; destroying cancer cells that may have metastasized or spread to other parts of the body; and, relieving symptoms caused by cancer.
Some very common chemotherapy drugs that are said to be helping women (with advanced-stage breast cancer) live longer are Taxol ( Paclitaxel), Abraxan (Nab-paclitaxel) and Taxotere (Docetaxel). These three chemo drugs, like many others, are said to work effectively; however, attention has been focused on one lately, namely, Taxotere, due to its damaging side-effect which is permanent alopecia or permanent hair loss.
Taxotere is manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for breast cancer treatment as well as for the treatment of a variety of other types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer, prostate cancer, gastric cancer, and head and neck cancer.
Because chemotherapy also affects healthy cells (not just the rapidly growing cancer cells) , like the cells that line the stomach and the cells in hair follicles, its most common side-effects, therefore, include vomiting, diarrhea and loss of hair (hair loss, though, is temporary and can be expected to grow back within six months after chemo treatment has stopped).
In treatments where Taxotere is used, though, women complained either of permanent alopecia (permanent hair loss) or alopecia universalis, which is total loss of hair on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, under arms and around the genital area.
Affected women have revealed that permanent hair loss and, more so, total loss of hair, have profoundly impacted their quality of life. With this is their disappointment with the makers of Taxotere for having kept from them this drug’s damaging side-effect.
Permanent hair loss after breast cancer treatment has negatively affected the personal, professional and sexual relationships of many women in the U.S. Good for breast cancer patient outside of the U.S. because they were warned of the side-effects of Taxotere as early as 2005. In the U.S., however, this warning was made only in 2015 upon the order of the FDA, after tens of thousands had already been treated with Taxotere.