In a twist that seems unlikely arsenic is being used to treat patients with a rare form of leukemia. Arsenic has been used for over 2,000 years in China but now the West sees that in this case it works.
The amount of arsenic used is very small of course. Otherwise it would kill the patients. The research has shown that it extends the life and prevents relapse of people suffering from acute promyelocytic leukemia. APL strikes 1,500 people ion the US annually.
It is possible with further testing the need for chemotherapy will be eliminated with the use of arsenic.
"The people who took arsenic lived longer," Dr. Nancy Davidson, president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told Reuters.
Arsenic is being used in the patients who have relapsed and not responding to other treatment.
The study though started the arsenic as part of the standard treatment.
They found that 81 of 261 patients in the arsenic group were free of disease after three years, compared with 66 of 257 patients in the group who got the standard regimen alone.
"Among those who actually got arsenic, only five patients, or 2 percent, relapsed," Dr. Bayard Powell of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
said. "This is very impressive."
The arsenic, arsenic trioxide, targets the cancer cells killing them. Chemotherapy on the other hand kills cells at will.
"Patients look up and pay attention when you mention you are going to treat them with arsenic," Powell said.