(RxWiki News) Part of the treatment for especially severe cancers of the blood is to destroy all the cells in the bone marrow that are responsible for making both the good and bad parts of the blood with radiation therapy.
The second stage of the treatment involves transplanting back only the healthy cells. Even then, the stem cell transplant process works less than half of the time.
It is an expensive process, both financially and in terms of the patient's health. Patients may have to take powerful drugs for the rest of their lives.
"Ask your oncologist about Revlimid. "
In research performed by the University of North Carolina, a phase III trial for Revlimid (lenalidomide) showed that using the drug after stem cell transplant in patients with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, improved three year survival from 35 percent to 59 percent.
Part of the same chemical family as the infamous morning sickness drug thalidomide, Revlimid (lenalidomide) was tested after scientists noticed thalidomide's effectiveness in treating leukemia.
Approved by the FDA in 2005, it is more than 50,000 times more powerful than thalidomide and in comparison to thalidomide, causes harmful side effects less frequently.
Revlimid is given as a lifelong treatment after stem cell transplantation, and although the precise method isn't known, seems to prevent the cancer from coming back.
"The results of this trial will change our treatment of multiple myeloma patients," said Thomas Shea, MD and co-author of the study.
"While lenalidomide has some risks, including an increase in people developing second cancers, it generally appears to be well-tolerated when given long-term and was associated with a delay in time to progression of the myeloma as well as an improvement in overall survival" Dr. Shea added.
Earlier studies performed in France did not show as significant an effect, and researchers urged some moderation in interpreting their results.
Research was published online May 10, 2012, in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute. The drug's manufacturer, Celgene, provided both the lenalidomide and placebo used in the trial.