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Thursday 27th October 2016

Thalidomide drug lung cancer 'failure'

17th July 2009

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has said the drug thalidomide does not enhance lung cancer survival rates.


Thalidomide is the subject of research as a drug to treat cancer. It was used fifty years ago to treat morning sickness in pregnant women, which resulted in birth deformities.

Researchers from University College London and Middlesex Hospitals studied 724 patients who had small cell lung cancer.

Small cell lung cancer make up 15-20% of lung cancers. Only 2% of people survive for longer than than five years once they have been diagnosed.

Thalidomide can target and suppress the growth of new blood vessels, which are required by tumours in order to flourish.

50% of the patients in the study had chemotherapy treatment and were given a daily pill which contained thalidomide, while the other half had chemotherapy and a "dummy" tablet.

The team studied patients for two years and found that the patients who took the fake pill lived for an average of 10.5 months, while the ones who took thalidomide tablets lived an average of 10.1 months.

The team's leader Dr Siow Ming Lee wrote in the journal: "Despite preliminary promising evidence and biological plausibility, thalidomide was not associated with any survival benefit."

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK's director of clinical research, said: "Thalidomide continues to show promise in treating a cancer of the bone marrow called myeloma and it is being studied in a number of other cancers including mesothelioma [asbestos-related cancer] and prostate cancer."


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