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    Chemotherapy Drugs Used to Treat Arthritis

    What Side Effects Do These Drugs Have?

    Side effects of chemotherapy drugs are fairly common, even though the doses are typically lower than the doses used to treat cancer.

    All of these drugs can suppress the formation of blood cells, resulting in:

    • Anemia or low red blood cell count. Red blood cells are the cells that carry oxygen throughout your body
    • Leukopenia/Neutropenia or low white blood cell count that may cause decreased ability to fight infection
    • Thrombocytopenia or low platelet count that may cause impaired blood clotting

    In addition, methotrexate and Imuran can damage the liver, and Cytoxan can damage the urinary bladder lining and cause bleeding. Cytoxan also causes hair loss and sterility. Methotrexate and Cytoxan can cause damage to the lungs.

    Since no drug is entirely safe, your doctor will talk to you about the possible benefits of these drugs, as well as their side effects. The occurrence of side effects depends on the dose, type of drug, and length of treatment.

    It is very important to have the appropriate follow-up exams and lab testing while taking chemotherapy drugs. Careful monitoring can minimize all of these risks.

    How Long Does This Drug Treatment Last?

    Although there are some differences among the drugs and how they are used to treat certain rheumatologic and autoimmune diseases, these drugs usually produce benefits gradually, requiring weeks to months for full effectiveness. Generally, if there is no benefit within four months, it is unlikely that continuing the chemotherapy drug at the same dose will be helpful.

    Methotrexate and Imuran can be used for prolonged periods (many years) if necessary, as long as they do not cause serious side effects. Cytoxan is generally used for more limited periods because of its greater side effects. However, in certain cases more prolonged use may be necessary.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on September 05, 2014
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