Patients with certain advanced blood cancers who are too sick or elderly for intensive chemotherapy are usually given an anti-cancer drug called decitabine, which interferes with the growth of cancer cells. However, many patients don't respond to decitabine.

Now, Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers have found that adding arsenic trioxide dramatically increases the response rates of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Although arsenic can be poisonous, in controlled amounts it has been proven effective against a variety of disorders, including blood cancers.

Patricia Kropf, assistant director of the Fox Chase Cancer Center-Temple University Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Program, led the study of 38 patients with MDS or AML, most of whom had relapsed after previous treatment. In the study, patients were given decitabine with arsenic trioxide or with another chemotherapy, called carboplatin, that also showed promise in preclinical studies.

The results were striking: Only 3 of 13 patients (23 percent) responded to decitabine alone; 5 of 11 patients (45 percent) responded to decitabine and carboplatin; and 10 of 14 patients (71 percent) responded to decitabine with arsenic trioxide.

Kropf, who presented the results on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, said her team plans a larger study in 2016 to assess the effectiveness of adding the arsenic compound.


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