When people hear "thalidomide," many think "birth defects," however, evidence has come to light that this once-banned drug can be used as a potent anti-cancer treatment. In a new study, researchers from the University of Bologna, Italy, demonstrate that Thal-Dex (thalidomide used in combination with dexamethasone) is more powerful than conventional chemotherapy for the treatment of multiple myeloma. Their findings will be published in the July 1, 2005, issue of Blood, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology.
Each year, approximately 15,000 Americans are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable and painful disease of the bone marrow. Most patients who receive this diagnosis have less than five years to live; however, many can undergo autologous (self-donor) stem cell transplants to help prolong survival. Although thalidomide has been studied for the treatment of advanced stages of multiple myeloma since the late 1990s, this is the first large study to compare its effectiveness to standard drugs as part of front-line therapy with stem cell transplantation.
Because the odds for a successful transplant increase as the number of cancer cells decreases, patients receive chemotherapy a few months before the procedure. In this study, 100 multiple myeloma patients given Thal-Dex before transplant were compared to 100 patients given traditional chemotherapy with VAD (a combination of three drugs: vincristine, adriamycin, and dexamethasone).
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