This patient-friendly article is about chemotherapy drug, Thalidomide which became infamous as a medicine used in the late 1950s as a sleeping pill and to combat nausea some women experience in pregnancy and its use in treating multiple myeloma

It was found to cause birth defects by cutting blood supplies and was banned. However, those properties seemed appropriate in the fight against cancer and in the 1990’s researchers discovered that thalidomide could be used as a cancer drug to treat myeloma. This cutting of blood supplies means the drug is an angiogenesis inhibitor, which means it can stop cancer from developing new blood vessels, thus depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. It can also help with some of the side effects of chemotherapy. It is taken orally in tablet form.

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Thalidomide is used in combination with dexamethasone to treat multiple myeloma. The dosage of thalidomide is 200 mg once a day 1 hour after a meal and 40 mg of dexamethasone daily on days 1-4, 9-12 and 17-20 every 28 days.

Newer versions of thalidomide, for example, lenalidomide (Revlimid), are more potent with fewer side effects than thalidomide. The drugs seem to both inhibit plasma cell growth in the bone marrow and directly promote the death of cancer cells. In the USA doctors use the combination of lenalidomide with low-dose dexamethasone for many newly diagnosed patients, or for people who have relapsed.

According to the FDA, using CNS depressant drugs (Opioids, Antihistamines, Antipsychotics and antianxiety agents), drugs causing peripheral neuropathy (docetaxel, paclitaxel, bortezomib and alcohol), and other medications such as ones causing bradycardia (beta-blockers, digoxin, calcium channel blocker etc.) with thalidomide is not recommended as it could cause further sedative effects. 

Side effects can include:  fatigue, nausea, constipation, increased risk of blood clots, headache, dizziness, fluid retention. Obviously it is important for both men and women not to be considering conceiving on this drug.

Precautions: using thalidomide can cause embryo-fetal toxicity if used during pregnancy, seizures, decrease in heart rate (bradycardia), decrease in the concentration of white blood cells (neutropenia) and orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure).

Go to: 10 ways to improve your chemotherapy success and reduce side-effects

Other articles that you may find interesting are:

  1. A diet for Chemotherapy
  2. Immunotherapy overview
  3. A to Z Guide to Complementary Therapies

Go to: Return to the CANCERactive drug list


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