What Is Thalidomide Used For?
A healthcare provider may recommend thalidomide for people who have leprosy or multiple myeloma. Thalidomide is used in adults and children as young as 12 years old. It is approved to help slow down the progression of multiple myeloma, and can also help treat or prevent moderate-to-severe skin reactions and nerve pain caused by leprosy. Off-label uses can include treating mouth sores and Crohn's disease.
Thalidomide (Thalomid®) is a prescription medication approved for use in combination with another drug to treat a certain type of bone marrow cancer known as multiple myeloma. It is also approved for use alone or in combination with other medicines to treat skin sores associated with leprosy. Thalidomide is in a class of medicines known as immunomodulators.
Multiple myeloma is cancer that begins in plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell found primarily in the bone marrow (the spongy tissue in the center of some bones). Plasma cells help the body fight infection by producing antibodies, which are special proteins that identify and attack foreign substances like viruses and bacteria.
When normal plasma cells turn into cancerous cells, called myeloma cells, they begin to rapidly divide and grow in number. They also produce abnormal antibodies known as M protein. The M proteins cannot fight infection like other antibodies. Eventually, the cancerous cells crowd out normal, healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, and M proteins crowd out normally functioning antibodies.
Some people with multiple myeloma may not experience any symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. As it progresses, the bones may become damaged and break, causing bone pain. Other symptoms may include:
- Fatigue, from low levels of red blood cells (anemia)
- Frequent infections, from low levels of white blood cells
- High levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling thirsty
(Click Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma for more information on the symptoms associated with multiple myeloma.)
Thalidomide is used in combination with dexamethasone to treat people who have been recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The medication does not cure the disease, but may help delay the time until the disease progresses.