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How do Doctors Use Thalidomide for Myeloma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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Doctors can use thalidomide for myeloma as a standalone medication or part of combination therapy to attack the myeloma and attempt to prevent recurrence or spread of the cancer. Myeloma is very difficult to treat, and studies in the 1990s illustrating that it responded to thalidomide were received with much interest in the medical community as a result. The dangers of thalidomide require doctors to tightly control the use of the medication, and patients may need to observe some special precautions while taking it.

Thalidomide was originally introduced to the market for the treatment of women with morning sickness during pregnancy. It was withdrawn several years later when practitioners realized the drug was causing severe birth defects because it interfered with fetal development. Despite a notorious reputation, the drug's potential applications continued to be researched, and it was discovered that thalidomide for myeloma could be beneficial, as the drug restricts bloodflow to the tumor and stimulates immune function, shrinking tumors and helping the body fight the cancer.

Doctors often offer thalidomide for myeloma with a steroid like prednisone. Concerns about blood clots while on this medication have led some care providers to recommend prophylactic treatment for clots, like aspirin therapy, along with careful monitoring of patients for any signs of clotting. In addition to clotting, patients can experience side effects like fatigue, constipation, and dizziness while taking thalidomide for myeloma.

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The teratogenic effects of this drug mean that in some regions of the world, patients may be required to take birth control while on it. Patients may also need to register with a regulatory agency, submitting proof that they understand the risks and will take every reasonable precaution to avoid pregnancy. While patients with cancer are often unlikely to become pregnant, when they are on drugs known to cause fetal birth defects, their doctors want to be extremely careful.

Thalidomide for myeloma has been shown to be effective for both early and late treatment. Older patients with myeloma that has not been treated or has not responded well to treatment may benefit from therapy with this drug, along with patients of all ages who have been newly diagnosed. If thalidomide is an option for a patient, a doctor will discuss the medication and the potential risks and benefits. Patients may also want to ask about other treatment options, as myeloma treatment is always improving, and they should be aware that this treatment is still considered experimental in some parts of the world, and insurance companies may not cover it.

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