Evidence for Thalidomide Against Cancer Reported
By Margaret Clark
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Researchers from four medical centers across the US presented promising data Tuesday on the use of thalidomide in the treatment of cancer.
Although notorious for having induced severe birth defects decades ago when it was taken to prevent morning sickness during pregnancy, thalidomide has attracted the interest of researchers who have been exploring its usefulness for treating conditions such as cancer. Some of the latest preliminary findings were reported at the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium XVIII here.
Dr. William Figg of the National Cancer Institute presented data from 63 patients with prostate cancer. Fifty patients received 200 milligrams (mg) daily thalidomide, while the remaining group of 13 patients began with a dosage of 200 mg of thalidomide, escalating to 1,200 mg daily.
Figg and colleagues found that 58% of the patients receiving the low dose and 68% of the patients receiving the escalating dose had some reduction in their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, which is an indicator of prostate cancer.
Dr. Bart Barlogie and colleagues from the University of Arkansas evaluated thalidomide in patients with multiple myeloma. In patients with difficult-to-treat disease, there was a 55% overall survival rate after 18 months. Barlogie reported that 10% of patients receiving a dosage of 400 mg experienced side effects including constipation, weakness, sleepiness, and tingling and numbness.
Dr. Rangaswamy Govindarajan, also from the University of Arkansas, presented preliminary data on 17 patients with colorectal cancer that had spread. These patients were taking thalidomide plus the cancer drug irinotecan. Overall, 11 of the 17 experienced a decrease in side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jorges Cortes of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, is studying the use of thalidomide in combination with chemotherapy. While his results are preliminary, Cortes reported that 3 out of 9 patients with leukemia experienced a partial response to the treatment, with one patient experiencing a complete response.