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  • Health & Medicine

Proof that controversial therapy is effective

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by Cancer Research UK | News

7 May 2003

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Cancer Research UK scientists have for the first time shown that a controversial treatment is more effective than traditional chemotherapy for treating multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

The treatment, known as High-Dose Therapy, was at the centre of a medical scandal in 2001 when a South African researcher admitted falsifying results of using the therapy to treat breast cancer.

However, a report1 reveals that High-Dose Therapy for multiple myeloma is more than five times as effective than standard chemotherapy.

The much hyped High-Dose Therapy was used widely in the USA for treating breast cancer but once the South African study had been disqualified there was no longer any proof that the treatment was any better than standard therapy.

Lead researcher, Professor Peter Selby who is Director of the Cancer Research UK Unit at St James’s Hospital in Leeds, says: “This treatment certainly has a controversial past, especially for treating breast cancer. However, our large-scale study proves that High-Dose Therapy is effective for patients with multiple myeloma.”

Multiple myeloma affects around 3,500 people in the UK each year and is notoriously difficult to treat. The survival rate over five years is currently less than 20 per cent.

However the new study, which also received funding from the Medical Research Council and Leukaemia Research Fund, shows that patients who received High-Dose Therapy survived, on average, a year longer than those who had conventional chemotherapy.

Professor Selby explains: “Nearly a half of patients on High-Dose Therapy showed a complete response, which means that there was no sign of the cancer after treatment. This compares to less than ten per cent of patients on standard chemotherapy.”

As its name suggests, the treatment is very intensive and kills off all the cells of the bone marrow. This means that healthy bone marrow cells have to be taken from patients prior to treatment and returned once the therapy is complete via an injection.

“People who undergo High-Dose Therapy have to stay in hospital and they can become very sick, which is why we had to prove the treatment is beneficial through a large scale trial,” adds Professor Selby.

Cancer Research UK’s Sir Paul Nurse says: “It’s vital that we conduct trials of this scale to find out whether one treatment really is better than another.

“The reputation of this type of treatment has been damaged by its controversial past but this study clearly shows a benefit for multiple myeloma patients.”


  1. New England Journal of Medicine348 19