Chemotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis generally sounds odd, for the people who know that it is used only to treat cancer. Chemotherapy refers to some drugs which are used to slow down the progression of rapid multiplying cells. The doses required to treat rheumatoid arthritis is comparatively low than that in the treatment of cancer. In rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation is caused to several body parts, which results from auto immunity, where one’s immune system attacks the body cells leading it to deformity. Chemotherapy drugs are known to help patient from inflammation and other auto immune disease. These drugs are called immunosuppressive because of their suppressive effect in nature.
Chemotherapy drugs for rheumatoid arthritis
There are many chemotherapy drugs for treating cancer but few drugs are only used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and they are Rheumatrex (methotrexate), Azathioprine (imuran), and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide).
- Rheumatrex or methotrexate, formerly known as amethopterin. It is an antimetabolite and antifolate drug used formerly in treating cancer but now used to treat some auto immune disease like rheumatoid arthritis by replacing more toxic antifolate aminopterin. Polymyositis and inflammation of blood vessels or vasculitis are effectively treated by this drug. The dosage can be taken orally regularly or orally but can be injected weekly. There are some mild and severe side effects using these drugs like body discomfort, headache, hair loss, appetite loss, nausea, stomach pain, rash, swelling of mouth, lips, chest pain, etc.
- Azathioprine or imuran is a purine analogue immunosuppressive drug, and is generally used to treat autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis. It is generally used to decrease vacuities, lupus, etc. Trere are also several side effects using these drugs like developing certain types of cancer, lymphoma, anemia, weight loss, night sweat, itching, fever, and some skin rashes. This drug is also helpful as it prevent the rejection of kidney transplant and certain type of bowel condition.
- Cytoxan or cyclophosphamide is a nitrogen mustard alkylating agent and is used to treat various types of cancer and auto immune disease. It is generally combined with other chemotherapy drugs to treat lymphomas and rheumatoid arthritis and is quite more powerful and toxic than those of Rheumatrex and Azathioprine. It is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, if it becomes more aggressive, such as severe lupus, and vasculitis. It works by affecting the rapid growing cells present in the immune system, but can affect those cells also which does not multiply, if the dosage is more.
Duration of Chemotherapy drugs
Though chemotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis is very helpful but it has several side effects, which may prove fatal for the patients. It generally requires few weeks or months to get effective, but it is readily advised to stop the consumption of these drugs, if it doesn’t show progress with in few months. As Rheumatrex and Azathioprine has low affecting toxins can be used for prolonged period, till they do not show any serious side effect, where as Cytoxan must be used for a limited period as it has several fatal side effects. Its prolonged use is required in some severe cases.