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Dexamethasone eases end-of-life cancer-related fatigue



Major finding: Scores on the FACIT fatigue subscale improved by an average of 6 points in patients treated with dexamethasone, compared with 3 points in patients treated with placebo.

Data source: Double-blind, randomized trial of 132 patients with advanced cancer.

Disclosures: The American Cancer Society supported the study. Dr. Yennu reported having no financial disclosures.

NEW ORLEANS – Dexamethasone was more effective than was placebo in relieving cancer-related fatigue in a double-blind randomized trial of patients with advanced cancer.

After 14 days of treatment, scores on the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy (FACIT) fatigue subscale improved by nearly 6 points in the dexamethasone group (9.0 vs. 3.1; P = .008).

Patrice Wendling/IMNG Medical Media

Dr. Sriram Yennu


"[Treatment] duration is very important in our patient population because when they are referred to us, it’s very late. They typically have a survival of just 28 to 7 days," Dr. Sriram Yennu said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

Although 20%-50% of palliative care patients receive some form of corticosteroid, no steroid study to date has used cancer-related fatigue (CRF) as a primary outcome or assessed CRF with a validated outcome measure, he said. Fatigue is ubiquitous, however, contributing up to one-third of symptom distress in patients with advanced cancer.

The study enrolled 132 outpatients with a life expectancy of at least 4 weeks with three or more cancer-related symptoms (fatigue, pain, nausea, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbance), and randomly assigned them to oral dexamethasone 4 mg twice daily or placebo for 14 days.

The most common diagnosis was head and neck/lung cancer in 45 patients, followed by gastrointestinal cancer in 39, breast cancer in 13, and genitourinary in 10. Median patient age was 60; 81 patients were white, and the average FACIT fatigue score was 19.6, where 52 denotes no fatigue and 0 is severe fatigue.

Among 84 evaluable patients, total scores on FACIT favored the dexamethasone group (18.16 vs. 7.87; P = .03), as did scores on its physical subscale (5.25 vs. 1.32; P = .002), said Dr. Yennu of the department of palliative care and rehabilitation medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

Scores on the physical domain of the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) were better in the dexamethasone group than in the placebo group (–10.15 vs. –5.39; P = .04), according to the study, which earned Dr. Yennu a young investigator award.

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