Medical Breakthrough: Thalidomide Kills Cancer

Monday, December 20th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Multiple myeloma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States. Cancer of the bone marrow strikes nearly 14,000 Americans every year, and there's no cure. However, there may be a way to slow down the disease using an old drug with a bad reputation.

"The doctor said, 'It's a cancer of the bone marrow. You have three to five years to live. Stop by my office on your way home.'" says Susie Novis. One phone call changed Novis's life forever. Her husband, Brian, had multiple myeloma. Cancer was eating away the bone in his spine. "He was in excruciating pain. He couldn't bend down to get dressed. He couldn't put his socks on," says Novis.

Brian Durie, M.D., a hematologist/oncologist at the Cedars-Sinai Cancer Center in Los Angeles, Calif., had no cure for Brian. He died four years after being diagnosed. Today, Dr. Durie has much more to offer his patients with thalidomide. The sedative, used to treat morning sickness in women in the 60s, caused birth defects by blocking the growth of blood vessels to the arms and legs. Dr. Durie decided that could be a good thing in adults with myeloma -- block blood vessel growth into tumors and you essentially starve them. "If you stick with a lower dose that allows patients to function pretty well day to day, the disease will slowly go into remission, so you get the response that you want," says Dr. Durie.

Loeta Campbell has multiple myeloma. Eight months on the drug and her cancer stopped growing. The pain is gone. "I'm doing well and on the way to maybe getting a recovery. I hope so," says Campbell.
It comes too late for Novis and her husband, but today she runs the International Myeloma Foundation, a dream which Brian laid the groundwork for just before he died.

Thalidomide reduced tumor growth by 50 percent in one third of patients testing it. Dr. Durie says if it works, it should be available to myeloma patients within two years. Thalidomide is also being tested for its affect on breast cancer, skin cancer, lymphoma and pediatric bone tumors.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Cedars-Sinai Health System
8700 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Information line: (800) 233-2771

The International Myeloma Foundation website is at