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Thalidomide may have cancer role

LONDON, March 7 (UPI) -- British researchers Monday reported thalidomide, no longer widely used because it causes birth defects, may be an effective treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Thalidomide was used in the 1950s and 1960s as a sleeping pill and for morning sickness during pregnancy until its severe side effects became known. It currently is approved in the United States for treating leprosy skin sores, and, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Web information, is also used in Brazil and Mexico.

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A small study of 50 patients, published in the British medical journal Gut, suggests thalidomide also may slow the weight loss and wasting that causes the death of one in five patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at Southampton University Hospital School of Medicine found after a month, patients taking thalidomide had gained an average of 0.8 pounds, while patients taking a placebo had lost 4.8 pounds. Researchers said there was no overall difference in survival times between the two groups, but increases in weight accompanied increases in physical capacity.

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