Dexamethasone for the Prevention of a Pain Flare After Palliative Radiation Therapy for Painful Bone Metastases: The Multicenter Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled 3-Armed Randomized Dutch DEXA Study

Yvette M. van der Linden*, Paulien G. Westhoff, Rebecca K. Stellato, Angela van Baardwijk, Kim de Vries, Francisca Ong, Ruud Wiggenraad, Bonnie Bakri, Gerda Wester, Ilse de Pree, Lieneke van Veelen, Tom Budiharto, Maaike Schippers, Anna K. L. Reyners, Alexander de Graeff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: After radiation therapy for painful bone metastases, up to 44% of patients report a pain flare (PF). Our study compared 2 dose schedules of dexamethasone versus placebo to prevent PF.

Methods and Materials: This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial allocated patients with painful bone metastases from solid tumors randomly to receive 8 mg dexamethasone before radiation therapy followed by 3 daily doses (group A), 8 mg dexamethasone followed by 3 doses of placebo (group B), or 4 doses of placebo (group C). Patients reported worst pain scores, study medication side effects, and opioid intake before treatment and thereafter daily for 14 days and on day 28. PF was defined as at least a 2-point increase on a 0 to 10 pain scale with no decrease in opioid intake or a 25% or greater increase in opioid intake with no decrease in pain score, followed by a return to baseline or lower. The primary analysis was by intention to treat with patients who had missing data classified as having a PF.

Results: From January 2012 to April 2016, 295 patients were randomized. PF incidence was 38% for group A, 27% for group B, and 39% for group C (P = .07). Although patients in group B had the lowest PF incidence, a relatively high percentage did not return to baseline pain levels, indicating pain progression. The mean duration of PF was 2.1 days for group A, 4.5 days for group B, and 3.3 days for group C (P = .0567). Dexamethasone postponed PF occurrence; in group A 52% occurred on days 2 to 5 versus 73% in group B and 99% in group C (P = .02). Patients in group A reported lower mean pain scores on days 2 to 5 than those in group B or C (P < .001). Side effects were similar.

Conclusions: There was insufficient evidence that dexamethasone reduced the incidence of radiation-induced PF. However, dexamethasone postponed the occurrence of PF and led to lower mean pain scores on days 2 to 5. (C) 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-553
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020



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