Arsenic may stop some adult leukemia

May 23, 2011 9:03:26 AM PDT
This year in the U.S., doctors will diagnose 43-thousand new cases of leukemia. Although many of these cancers are highly curable, it can recur, even after successful treatment.

Now, researchers say they've found a surprising new way to stop a potentially deadly type of adult leukemia from coming back. They give the patient arsenic. That's right, poison.

It's a notorious poison straight out of the movies, but what if your doctor wanted to give it to you?

"I knew what arsenic was because I worked on farms and stuff, and it's rat poison, and I was like, 'what, you're kidding me.'" John Williams, a leukemia patient, told Ivanhoe.

44-year-old John Williams is being treated with arsenic to fight an acute form of leukemia called APL. it's where abnormal white blood cells grow instead of normal, healthy ones. That's where the arsenic comes in.

" It's supposed to retrain the bad cells into thinking that they were good cells again and they get back to doing their normal stuff," John said.

Doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center put patients on two, five-week IV regimens of arsenic trioxide after getting standard treatment to put their leukemia in remission. Principal investigator doctor Bayard Powell says this arsenic is less toxic than chemo.

"There's a lot of trepidation as people first start. They're a little bit anxious about getting arsenic, but once they get it, especially those who've already had chemotherapy, they're so excited about how they feel," Bayard L. Powell, M.D., a professor of internal medicine, and chief of the section on hematology and oncology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, explained.

90 percent of the patients treated with arsenic were disease-free after three years compared to just 70 percent of those who didn't get arsenic.

"There's a better response rate, better cure rate, for patients and also it's with less toxicity," Dr. Powell said. Now, John can look forward to spending a lot more time with his best friends. Eight months after a leukemia diagnosis, he's cancer-free.

"All because of some rat poison!" John said.

Rat poison and some very smart doctors. Obviously, the form of arsenic used in this experimental treatment is not the same chemical they put in rat poison. This new approach is still considered experimental but is being used more frequently.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Bonnie Davis, Media Relations Manager
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
Winston-Salem, NC

Load Comments