The Use Of Dexamethasone With Chemotherapy: Benefits And Side Effects
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The Use of Dexamethasone With Chemotherapy

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/21/2010

Dexamethasone is a medication that is sometimes prescribed to patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The use of dexamethasone with chemotherapy works to relieve some cancer medication side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Learn more about the functions of this drug.

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    Medical doctors can recommend the use of dexamethasone with chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients who are experiencing bothersome side effects such as nausea and bodily inflammations. Prescribed under the brand names Dexasone, Decadron, Hexadrol, Diodex, and Maxidex, dexamethasone is also effective in treating some blood, bone, and lymphatic cancers.

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    How Dexamethasone Works

    Dexamethasone is classified as a glucocorticosteroid, a drug that mimics the function of natural corticosteroid hormones regulated by the adrenal gland. Though the ways in which dexamethasone works to increase appetite and prevent nausea are undetermined, the anti-inflammatory properties of the drug alleviate swelling in the body by preventing white blood cells from reaching tumors. This medication is also prescribed to facilitate the programmed death of cancerous white blood cells.

    Dexamethasone can be administered intravenously, orally, and in the form of eye drops. It is prescribed in either low daily doses (10 mg or less) or higher occasional doses (20 to 40 mg daily, four days per month).

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    Benefits of Dexamethasone

    When administered with chemotherapy medications, dexamethasone can have several positive effects on cancer patients. In individual patients, dexamethasone may work to:

    alleviate nausea caused by chemotherapy medications - Dexamethasone helps to ease nausea and vomiting, both of which are common side effects of chemotherapy drugs such as Cytoxan.

    stimulate appetite - Patients who experience loss of appetite due to chemotherapy treatments can benefit from receiving dexamethasone.

    treat inflammation in the body - This medication treats inflammation of the kidneys, lungs, eyes, digestive tract, and skin. It is also prescribed to reduce swelling caused by brain or spinal cord tumors.

    treat certain types of cancer (in conjunction with chemotherapy) - Dexamethasone can be prescribed during chemotherapy to help treat certain lymphomas and leukemias.

    decrease blood calcium levels - Patients with bone cancer can take this medication as a means of stabilizing calcium levels in the blood.

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    Side Effects of Dexamethasone

    The use of dexamethasone may also produce side effects, most of which are temporary in nature. The most common side effects of dexamethasone include:

    increased appetite and weight gain - Some patients may experience weight gain due to dexamethasone stimulating the appetite.

    fluid retention and swelling in the ankles, feet, hands, or face - This medication can cause bloating in the extremities and the abdominal region. Less commonly, swelling in the chest can cause breathing problems.

    indigestion and heartburn - Since dexamethasone can irritate the stomach, patients are advised to take the medication with milk or food.

    insomnia - Some people may have trouble falling asleep or may experience disruptions in sleep patterns.

    elevated blood glucose levels - Particularly worrisome for people with diabetes, this side effect of dexamethasone use should be promptly addressed and monitored by a doctor.

    delayed healing of wounds - Bodily wounds that occur from injuries or surgeries may take longer to heal.

    Side effects of dexamethasone that develop less frequently include sudden shifts in mood, dizziness, skin rashes and headaches. Rare but more serious side effects include bone fractures, fluctuations in heart rhythm, and bleeding or ulcers in the stomach.

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    The use of dexamethasone with chemotherapy drugs is helpful for many cancer patients, though people with diabetes, congestive heart failure, stomach ulcers, or infections may not be good candidates for receiving the medication. Patients should consult their doctors for advice on how combining dexamehtasone with common chemotherapy drugs can benefit their individual needs.

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