Thalidomide: features and potential significance in oral precancerous conditions and oral cancer


Correspondence: Dr Xin Zeng and Dr Haiyun Huang, State Key Laboratory of Oral Diseases, West China Hospital of Stomatology, Sichuan University, 14 RenMinNanLu, Section 3, Chengdu, Sichuan 610041, China. Tel: +86 28 85503480, Fax: +86 28 85405251, E-mails: and



Thalidomide was originally marked as a sedative and anti-emetic, but was withdrawn after severe teratogenic effects had been discovered. More recently it has been claimed to alleviate a wide range of inflammatory disorders and malignancies. Studies showed that thalidomide might play a role in the management of some oral premalignant conditions and its potential to be an adjunct in the prevention of oral cancer.


The aim of this study is to summarize the characteristics and feasibility of thalidomide in the development and prevention of oral precancerosis, and to draw attentions of researchers to its therapeutic potential in oral cancer.


Databases were searched on the basis of PubMed and EMbase. Thalidomide associated with the oral lichen planus, chronic discoid lupus erythematosus (CDLE) and oral cancer were assessed.


We have summed up the structure and pharmacokinetics of thalidomide, possible role of thalidomide in cancer prevention, as well as the recent data concerning its effects in prevention of oral premalignant conditions and potential for the treatment of oral cancer.


Therapeutic effects of thalidomide in oral lichen planus and CDLE have been discussed by clinical trials. And increasing evidences from in vitro and in vivo experiments show that thalidomide is a promising anticancerous agent for oral cancer, which should be paid attention to. It is necessary to perform more studies and clinical trials of large sample size to clarify underlying mechanisms and demonstrate the potential roles of thalidomide in clinical routine management of oral diseases.