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Thalidomide shows promise for treating ovarian cancer


A drug long blamed for causing birth defects is now showing promise as a safe and effective treatment for women with recurrent ovarian cancer

A new study led by University of Minnesota researcher Levi Downs Jr., M.D., compared the effectiveness and safety of the drug thalidomide when used in combination with topotecan, a chemotherapy often used to treat ovarian cancer.

The multicenter clinical trial evaluated 75 women with recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer who were randomly assigned to receive either the two-drug combination or topotecan alone. The results showed that patients who received thalidomide plus topotecan had an overall response rate of 50 percent compared to 22 percent among those who received just topotecan. Furthermore, 32 percent of patients who received the two-drug therapy achieved a complete response—meaning the cancer went away—and had a longer cancer-free period after treatment.

“While thalidomide may not cure ovarian cancer, it may broaden the treatment options available to physicians and provide more hope to women diagnosed with the cancer,” says Downs, who is a gynecologic oncology researcher with the University’s Medical School and Cancer Center.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women. This year, more than 25,000 American women will be diagnosed, and about 16,000 will die from the disease.

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