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Arsenic Compound Effective in Treating Rare Leukemia

d chemotherapy drugs combined with the retinoid ATRA, a vitamin A derivative plus a post-remission regimen of additional chemotherapy and ATRA followed by a year of maintenance chemotherapy using oral agents, including ATRA, or the identical regimen plus two 25-day courses of arsenic trioxide prior to the post-remission therapy. Patients receiving the arsenic trioxide had significantly better likelihood of remaining disease-free and surviving than those receiving standard chemotherapy alone. Patients in remission also underwent an additional year of ATRA, with or without oral chemotherapy, to ensure they remained cancer-free.

“These patients endured additional months of therapy, with 25 days of two-hour infusions of arsenic given over five weeks,” explained Dr. Kolitz. “Then, after a short break, they had to do it all over again.” Study patients also underwent extensive follow-up, including weekly blood tests and regular bone marrow tests. They will be monitored for life.

Ms. Murphy said study participants got through the ordeal thanks to the support of each other and staff at NSUH and LIJ. “I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have been able to endure the treatments if it wasn’t for their support and encouragement,” said Ms. Murphy, a grandmother, journalist, musician and activist. “The entire staff was incredibly supportive and provided lots of encouragement, especially during the times I wasn’t sure I could get through this,” she said.

In acute leukemia, the bone marrow doesn’t mature properly, and eventually crowds out normal cells. APL, a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), affects about 1,500 patients each year, about 10 percent of AML cases. It primarily strikes middle-aged adults. AML is an acquired, not genetic, condition, which helps to explain why previously healthy people can develop it. While scientists are still unsure of what causes AML, they believe long-term exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, may be a
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