Cancer Home > Thalidomide

Thalidomide is available by prescription only and is used in the treatment of multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects plasma cells. This drug is also approved to treat or prevent skin reactions caused by leprosy. It comes as a capsule and is taken once daily. Possible side effects include swelling, constipation, and numbness of the skin.

What Is Thalidomide?

Thalidomide (Thalomid®) is a prescription medication approved for the treatment of multiple myeloma (cancer of plasma cells) in people who have been recently diagnosed with the condition. It is also used alone or in combination with other medicines to treat or prevent skin reactions from Hansen's disease, more commonly known as leprosy. These skin reactions are known medically as erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL).
Because of the high risk of birth defects due to this medication, there are strict regulations for prescribing and dispensing it. These rules are designed to prevent pregnant women from being exposed to the drug. Some of these requirements include the following:
  • You will have to sign special paperwork and take periodic phone surveys to ensure you are following the rules.
  • Your prescriber will need to call the manufacturer to receive authorization each month before you can have a new prescription.
  • Your pharmacy must be registered with a special program in order to dispense thalidomide, and your pharmacist will have to call to get each prescription authorized by the manufacturer (again) before dispensing the medication.
  • No refills or phone-in prescriptions are allowed (a new prescription is required each month), and only 28 days' worth of medication can be dispensed at a time.
This process can be confusing and tricky, especially because each step is time-sensitive (each authorization is only good for a short period of time). Make sure your pharmacist and prescriber can work together to make the process run smoothly.
(Click What Is Thalidomide Used For? for more information on this topic, including possible off-label uses.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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