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What Is Decitabine?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Decitabine is a chemotherapy drug a doctor may prescribe to treat a patient with myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition where the bone marrow produces cancerous cells. A number of cancers fall into this group, and there are a variety of treatment options available. Before a doctor determines a course of treatment, she will evaluate the patient carefully to learn more about the cancer and any risk factors that might make use of a particular medication inadvisable. This process can include medical imaging, blood tests, and patient interviews to collect medical history.

This medication works by blocking cell growth to prevent the production of cancerous cells. Inevitably, it also limits the growth of normal cells, and this drug has an immunosuppressive effect. While on decitabine, patients will have low white blood cell counts. This exposes them to the risk of infection and makes it harder to fight off infections. Patients with normally minor infections can get very sick, and it is important to avoid live vaccines, people known to carry infections, and environments where infectious organisms are likely to be present, like crowded rooms.

Patients receive decitabine by injection in a doctor's office, clinic, or cancer treatment center. They may need to wait after their injections so nurses can monitor them for adverse reactions. These reactions can onset suddenly and may be very dangerous. Once the patient appears stable, she can be released to go home or return to her hospital room. Patients should make sure to communicate about anything abnormal they notice after their injections, as this could be a sign of a bad reaction.

Decitabine can cause nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, dizziness, and electrolyte imbalances. Some patients experience high blood sugar and may feel lightheaded while on the drug. It is also a known teratogen and can damage DNA. Pregnant women should not take decitabine, and sexually active patients should exercise precautions to reduce the risk of pregnancy. If a patient becomes pregnant while on this drug or while her partner is using it, she should contact a doctor immediately for advice and recommendations.

Liver or kidney disease can make a patient a poor candidate for decitabine treatment. These patients may have trouble metabolizing the medication and could experience more dangerous side effects. A doctor should carefully evaluate the patient before making a decision about whether to recommend decitabine. It may be possible to use it safely with supervision, while in other patients, the risks would outweigh the benefits.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
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