Thalidomide in cancer: Potential uses and limitations

Seema Singhal*, Jayesh Mehta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


In addition to immunomodulatory and cytokine-modulatory properties, thalidomide has antiangiogenic activity. It has been investigated in a number of cancers including multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, gliomas, Kaposi's sarcoma, renal cell carcinoma, advanced breast cancer, and colon cancer. Its role has been best explored in myeloma, where, at daily doses of 100 to 800mg, it is remarkably active, causing clinically meaningful responses in one-third of extensively pretreated patients and in over half of patients treated early in the course of the disease. It also acts synergistically with corticosteroids and chemotherapy in myeloma. Thalidomide produces improvement of cytopenias characteristic of myelodysplastic syndrome, resulting in the reduction or elimination of transfusion dependence in some patients. Responses have also been seen in one-third of patients with Kaposi's sarcoma, in a small proportion of patients with renal cell carcinoma and high grade glioma and, in combination with irinotecan, in some patients with colon cancer. Thalidomide is being investigated currently in a number of clinical trials for cancer. Drowsiness, constipation and fatigue are common adverse effects seen in 75% of patients. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and skin rash are seen in 30%. A minority of patients experience brady-cardia and thrombotic phenomena. Despite the high frequency of adverse effects, those severe enough to necessitate cessation of therapy are seen in only 10 to 15% of patients. A therapeutic trial of thalidomide should be considered in all patients with myeloma who are unresponsive to or relapse after standard therapy. In other malignant diseases, the most appropriate way to use the drug is in the setting of well designed clinical trials. In the absence of access to such studies, thalidomide could be considered singly or in combination with standard therapy in patients with no meaningful therapeutic options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-172
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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