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What Are the Uses of Dexamethasone for Cancer?

Article Details
  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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Many patients use the drug dexamethasone for cancer treatments. It can complement the patient's chemotherapy, prevent reactions to other medications, and help treat certain side effects of the chemotherapy drugs. This drug is a glucocorticosteroid, which is a synthetic hormone that mimics that effects of natural hormones produced by the body.

Dexamethasone for cancer is typically used to help treat multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and leukemia. The drug does not replace a patient's chemotherapy drugs, but it can complement them. It is thought that it works by causing certain cancerous white blood cells to die and preventing healthy white blood cells from traveling to cancerous tumors.

Patients taking chemotherapy drugs typically experience a wide range of side effects, from hair loss to appetite loss. Taking dexamethasone for cancer treatments can help prevent some of these symptoms. It may help increase the patient's appetite, prevent nausea and vomiting, and reduce swelling. Dexamethasone may also help prevent some adverse reactions to other drugs from occurring, such as allergic reactions. Those with cancer that has spread to the bones may also use it to lower their levels of calcium in the blood.

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This drug is available as an oral medication in the form of liquids or tablets. It may also be injected intravenously into the patient's vein. Patients should follow all dosage instructions carefully. It should be taken with a small meal or a glass of milk to help prevent stomach upset. The use of alcohol while taking dexamethasone for cancer should be limited, because this can encourage the development of stomach ulcers.

Dexamethasone may cause some side effects, which should be reported to the doctor if they become severe. These may include dizziness, sweating, and vertigo. Insomnia, unusual mood changes, and slow wound healing have also been reported. Some patients have experienced changes in the location of body fat, acne, and unusual bruising.

More serious side effects require immediate medical care. These can include rapid weight gain, swelling, severe upper abdominal pain, seizures, severe depression, and shortness of breath. One possible complication is low potassium levels, which is indicated by an uneven heartbeat, muscle weakness, and extreme thirst. Very high blood pressure may also occur, which typically presents with blurred vision, chest pain, and a severe headache, along with ringing in the ears.

Before taking dexamethasone for cancer, patients must disclose their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements. The drug should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It may be contraindicated for use by those with kidney or liver disease, diabetes, or congestive heart failure. Other drugs may interact with dexamethasone, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood thinners, and diuretics.

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