CHICAGO, Well known as a poison that can kill, arsenic also can prolong the lives of patients with a rare form of leukemia, a new study out Saturday found.
"This study shows that even more patients will benefit if we give (arsenic) earlier in the course of treatment," said Dr. Bayard Powell, hematology professor at Wake Forest medical center in North Carolina, and the lead author of the research delivered at the meeting of the American Society of Oncology (ASCO) which brought together 25,000 experts in Chigago.
"The difference in survival rates and relapse rates are great enough to justify including arsenic trioxide in standard first-line treatment" of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), Powell argued.
In the Phase Three clinical study of 518 adults with the disease found that in the group of 261 patients who received arsenic along with customary medicines, the survival rate was 86 percent after three years compared to 77 percent for those who had only the standard treatment.
The arsenic-based medicine is made by Cephalon, Inc and marketed as Trisenox. Acute promyelocytic leukemia represents about 10 percent of cases of acute myeloid leukemia, and hits about 1,500 people a year in the United States. It is the form of leukemia most often diagnosed in young and middle-aged adults.
Standard treatment is chemotherapy and a form of vitamin A, with which about 80 percent of patients achieve a long remission.
Arsenic has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, and that led to its development as a leukemia treatment, Powell said.