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Arsenic Compound Effective in Treating Rare Leukemia

Through their participation in a national study, patients being treated for a rare form of leukemia by doctors at North Shore University Hospital// (NSUH) and Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center have helped confirm that an arsenic compound, coupled with standard chemotherapy treatments, significantly increases long-term survival.

Patients all had newly-diagnosed acute promyelocytic leukemia, or APL, and participated in a multi-year national phase III clinical study. Twenty eight patients from NSUH and LIJ enrolled in the clinical trials, the largest number of participants from any facility in the New York metropolitan area – and the second largest nationwide. The study involved 582 patients nationally over six years -- from June 1999 through March 2005. It was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute. The study findings were recently released prior to formal publication so that all APL patients could benefit sooner from the therapy, according to the NCI.

Jonathan Kolitz, MD, director of the leukemia service at NSUH’s Don Monti Division of Medical Oncology at the Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success, said the trial shows that APL is essentially curable in many patients, a term he doesn’t use lightly. “I believe arsenic trioxide will become part of the new standard protocol for treatment of APL in many patients,” he said.

Vicki Murphy, a 59-year-old resident of Oyster Bay, was diagnosed with APL in 2000. She was the first patient to enroll in the study at NSUH. After going through several rounds of chemotherapy to put her leukemia into remission, she said she went back to the hospital daily for nearly three months to receive the additional arsenic trioxide therapy. “I was scared but I also knew this trial was my chance for a cure,” she explained. “It’s always scary when you’re facing the unknown.”

In the randomized trials, patients with APL were given either several rounds of standar
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