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St. Jude Finds Anti-Leukemia Drug Increases Patient Fatigue

Finding that dexamethasone increases fatigue in children suggests that altering timing or dosing of this drug could lessen troublesome effect on sleep and increase quality of life for patients and their families

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Nov. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The anti-leukemia drug dexamethasone contributes to a relentless fatigue and poor quality of sleep in children undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), according to a new study from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The finding suggests that clinicians could improve the quality of life for these children by developing new methods of drug administration that reduce or eliminate these side effects.

The findings also suggest that before initiation of continuation therapy for ALL, health care workers should prepare patients and families to expect an increase in disrupted sleep and fatigue during dexamethasone treatment. Continuation therapy is the long-term treatment that occurs following the initial intensive use of anti-cancer drugs designed to quickly reduce the number of cancer cells.

"Parents and patients have long reported altered behaviors during dexamethasone treatment, but this is the first trial to document that disrupted sleep and fatigue are behavioral indicators of patients' response to the treatment," said Pamela Hinds, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Division of Nursing Research at St. Jude. Hinds is the first author of this study, which appears in the online version of the journal "Cancer."

"Now that we have demonstrated that dexamethasone is so disruptive of sleep and causes profound fatigue in children with ALL, we will study ways to reduce these troublesome side effects, while still allowing the patients to get full benefit of the treatment," said Ching-Hon Pui, M.D., chair of the St. Jude Department of Oncology and the paper's senior author. "This would help us continue to improve the already high quality of care we provide to children with ALL."

Other authors of the study include Jami S. Gattuso, Deo Kumar Srivastava, Xin Tong, and Nancy West (St. Jude); Marilyn J. Hockenberry and Kathy S. McCarthy (Texas Children's Cancer Center, Houston); Heather Jones (Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto); Avi Sadeh (Tel Aviv University, Israel); Monica Ash (Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge, La.); and Cheryl Fernandez (Louisiana State University, Shreveport, La.).

This work was supported by a Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Nursing Research and ALSAC.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. No family ever pays for treatments not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization. For more information, please visit

SOURCE St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
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