A simple arthritis drug could be an effective and low-cost solution in treating patients with blood cancer, according to a study. The drug commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis – called methotrexate (MTX) – significantly reduces the symptoms associated with blood cancers polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET), the study led by a scientist from the University of Sheffield found.
Every year around 6,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with either PV or ET, related blood cancers that cause an overproduction of red blood cells (PV) or blood-clotting platelets (ET). Patients often suffer with itching, headaches, weight loss, fatigue and night sweats.
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Building on previous Medical Research Council-funded work, the study led by Dr Martin Zeidler, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Science, and Dr Sebastian Francis from the Department of Haematology at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, as well as the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, found that MTX improved symptoms and may also reduce raised blood counts.
Although current treatments are usually able to control the increased blood counts, they provide little relief from sometimes debilitating symptoms that can often have a significant impact on quality of life, scientists said.
The study looked at hospital records of 11 existing ET and PV patients already taking methotrexate for other diseases. The scientists said despite the small numbers involved and the presence of background rheumatoid arthritis, these patients reported significantly lower symptom scores than patients not taking methotrexate.
Dr Zeidler said: “While we still need to undertake a clinical trial to validate these findings, our results are very encouraging and suggest that a simple drug that has been used for nearly 40 years to treat arthritis can provide significant relief to blood cancer sufferers. Patients we tested showed a pronounced improvement in symptoms, something conventional treatments have been unable to provide.
“Given the very low cost of MTX, this research could offer an effective therapy on a budget accessible to healthcare systems throughout the world – marking a potentially substantial clinical and health economic benefit.”
The results of the study have been published in the British Journal of Haematology.