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What Is Amifostine?

By Christina Whyte
Updated May 17, 2024
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Amifostine is a chemoprotectant drug, meaning it protects against the damaging effects of some kinds of treatments used for cancer. It is given each time a patient receives the cancer treatment in question. There are some side effects that may occur when taking this medication, and it may be unsuitable for some patients.

This medication is specifically known to be effective against the effects of cisplatin on the kidneys in patients with ovarian cancer or lung cancer. It is also used to relieve the severe dry mouth symptoms that can be caused by radiation therapy for cancer of the head or neck. The effectiveness of amifostine in other cancers or against other drugs and their effects is not yet known, but some clinical trials are underway.

Before receiving cancer treatment, amifostine will be given to the patient intravenously, most likely as a 15-minute duration infusion beginning 30 minutes before treatment. Patients will usually be told to lie down before amifostine is administered. It is important that the patient stays hydrated before, during, and after receiving amifostine in order to decrease the likelihood and severity of side effects.

Amifostine has some potential side effects. The most common is nausea and vomiting, which can be severe and may require anti-nausea medication and/or fasting before treatment. Dizziness, drowsiness, fever, chills or hot flashes, sneezing, and hiccups are other relatively minor side effects. Serious side effects other than vomiting are uncommon, but any severe or persistent side effects should be reported to a patient's doctor.

An important potential side effect of amifostine is a decrease in blood pressure. Due to this, patients who have pre-existing hypotension should not usually be given this medication. Patients who are taking blood pressure medication should discuss this with their doctors. The doctor may give intravenous fluids or pause the infusion in order to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Patients should ensure that the doctor in charge of treatment knows about all medications taken, including vitamins and herbal supplements, in order to prevent any adverse interactions. If taking medication that causes drowsiness, such as antihistamines, sleeping pills, and anxiety medication, patients should discuss this with the doctor. People who have a history of kidney problems, blood pressure problems, heart disease, or stroke, as well as women who are pregnant or nursing should also make sure to talk to the doctor about the safety and efficacy of this medication.

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