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What Is the Relationship between Dexamethasone and Chemotherapy?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The relationship between dexamethasone and chemotherapy is that the drug is used to treat some cancers and reduce swelling associated with others. The drug is also used to manage side effects associated with chemotherapy such as allergic reactions, decreased appetite, and nausea and vomiting. Dexamethasone is a synthetic steroid and can therefore reduce the swelling associated with brain and spine tumors. It can also actively treat lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. This means that dexamethasone is frequently used in chemotherapy regimens.

The drug’s ability to treat lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma is one relationship between dexamethasone and chemotherapy. Doctors don’t know why the drug is useful for these cancers, but research has confirmed the positive effect. It may work by changing the way that the immune system works, but this is only theoretical. The drug is used alone or as part of chemotherapy regimens for these treatments.

Steroids such as dexamethasone can relieve swelling, which makes it beneficial for some cancers. Brain and spine tumors have swollen areas surrounding them which press on nerves and cause patients pain. Dexamethasone reduces this swelling by preventing the body’s white blood cells from traveling to the swollen area. This works to reduce the swelling and thereby the pain associated with it. The combination of dexamethasone and chemotherapy can therefore make the treatment process more manageable for patients.

Another reason that dexamethasone and chemotherapy are related is the drug’s ability to reduce symptoms associated with other treatments. Many chemotherapy drugs can cause nausea, vomiting, and even a reduction in appetite. Dexamethasone reduces the severity of nausea and vomiting through an unknown but verifiable mechanism. Likewise, the drug can increase the appetite in cancer patients, but the reason for this in unknown.

Common cancer drugs such as paclitaxel and docetaxel can cause allergic reactions in some patients. The combination of dexamethasone and chemotherapy can reduce the likelihood and severity of these side effects. Steroids such as dexamethasone are often used to treat allergic reactions because of their ability to reduce swelling and other associated symptoms. The risk of allergic reactions is a small concern when compared to the risk of the cancer. Management of these symptoms is therefore preferable to not using the most effective cancer drugs.

Research has suggested that the combination of dexamethasone and chemotherapy is not always the best option. Studies have shown that dexamethasone given before chemotherapy for breast cancer can actually have a negative effect. In addition, the action of drugs such as paclitaxel and doxorubicin can be blocked by dexamethasone, reducing their ability to fight cancer. Doctors still often use the drug, however, because they believe its positive effects to outweigh the negative ones.

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