Arsenic Shown To Induce Cancer Remission

November 04, 1998

New York, November 5, 1998 -- Arsenic, a notorious poison, may be on the verge of overcoming its bad reputation. Two years ago, Chinese researchers reported that low doses of arsenic trioxide induced remission in patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), prompting physicians in the West to undertake their own pilot study.

Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have now become the first investigators in the Western world to show that arsenic effectively induces remission in patients who have relapsed with APL, a potentially fatal type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. The findings are reported in the November 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"We now know that arsenic can safely bring patients with APL into remission, which may ultimately give them a second chance at life," said Dr. Raymond P. Warrell, Jr., the senior author of the study and a leukemia specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

In the pilot study, 12 patients who had relapsed from conventional therapy were treated with low doses of arsenic trioxide. Eleven of the 12 patients achieved remission anywhere from 12 to 39 days after treatment started, experiencing only mild side effects.

The single patient who failed to reach remission died from a complication related to the disease five days after arsenic treatment began and could not be evaluated in the study.

Once remission was achieved, each patient received a brief treatment break, which was followed with repeated courses of arsenic trioxide therapy every three to six weeks thereafter. After two cycles of therapy, the investigators conducted additional tests to determine whether any molecular evidence of leukemia remained. Three patients tested positive for molecular evidence of the disease and later relapsed with APL, while eight patients tested negative for molecular evidence of APL and remained in remissions that lasted as long as 10 months. To date, several patients have received up to six courses of arsenic treatment without experiencing cumulative side effects.

"Based on these highly sensitive molecular results, treatment with arsenic trioxide appears to exceed the effectiveness of any single drug to treat APL," said Dr. Steven Soignet, the lead author of the study. "Still, this is not a cure. More studies will tell us how truly effective arsenic trioxide will be over the long term."

Arsenic trioxide works by killing the cancerous cells that cause APL, including those that have become resistant to the most successful form of treatment -- a drug called all-trans retinoic acid that was also pioneered by Dr. Warrell. Several years ago, he and others showed that all-trans retinoic acid could be used with chemotherapy to treat many patients with APL because it forced cancer cells to mature and die normally. But despite this improvement in therapy, about 30 percent of patients who receive all-trans retinoic acid develop resistance to it and relapse with the disease. Arsenic trioxide appears to bypass this resistance by forcing APL cells to partly mature, and then causing them to self-destruct.

"This finding shows that arsenic trioxide does not discriminate between APL that is resistant or not resistant to retinoic acid, which may mean that we can use it at the outset of treatment for patients with APL," said Dr. Soignet.

Clinical trials using arsenic trioxide to treat patients with APL are on-going at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and at several centers throughout the country. Next, the investigators will look at arsenic trioxide's effectiveness in treating other types of cancers.
-end-
The research has been supported in part by the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society and by grants from the Lymphoma Foundation and PolaRx Biopharmaceuticals, Inc.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is the world's oldest and largest institution devoted to patient care, research, and education in cancer. Throughout its long, distinguished history, the Center has played a leadership role in defining the standards of care for patients with cancer. In 1998, Memorial Sloan-Kettering was named the nation's best cancer center for the sixth consecutive year by U.S. News & World Report.
-end-


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.