(BPT) - When someone says blood cancer, the average person may typically think of lymphoma or leukemia. However, for an estimated 229,468 worldwide, blood cancer means multiple myeloma.[I]
In fact, multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer.[ii] An estimated 30,280 new cases of multiple myeloma were diagnosed in 2017 in the United States alone.[iii] March 1 marked the beginning of Multiple Myeloma Action Month, an annual observance helping to shed light on this disease. While supporting patients with multiple myeloma is a 365-day-a-year effort, March offers an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come and what’s next in improving patient care.
What is multiple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells.[iv],[v] Normal plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system.[iv],[v] Genetic changes in plasma cells cause them to transform into cancer cells, replicate uncontrollably and accumulate in the bone marrow.[v] The exact cause is unknown, and most people with multiple myeloma have no known risk factors other than age and race.[iii],[vi] African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma compared to white Americans.[iii] The average age at diagnosis is 69 years.[iii]
Patient outcomes are improving
In the 1990s, only one-third of patients survived five years following diagnosis.[vii] Now, nearly half of all multiple myeloma patients are expected to survive five years or more.[iii],[vii] This is largely due to ongoing research efforts that have led to the approval of new and novel treatments.
The multiple myeloma advocacy community is powerful
The International Myeloma Foundation declared March 2009 the first ever Myeloma Awareness Month and has since elevated the program to Myeloma Action Month, inspiring people to take action to drive awareness and progress. The International Myeloma Foundation and other patient organizations like the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Myeloma Crowd have become driving forces in the multiple myeloma community, helping to advance patient care through research and fundraising efforts while furthering public awareness. Patient demographics gathered through the MMRF CoMMpass StudySM are helping patients to better assess their treatment options, while programs like LLS’ Light The Night® and the MMRF’s The Journey Towards a Cure have infused the patient community with immense strength. Those involved often create long-lasting relationships and expand their support networks.
The search for a cure is an ongoing priority
While significant improvements in patient care have been made, there is still no cure for multiple myeloma. Patient advocates and researchers alike are dedicated to improving understanding of the disease and driving medical innovation. Projects, like the Myeloma Genome Project, are assessing genetic data associated with patient outcomes in an effort to improve diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. Additionally, research initiatives continue to investigate new uses for current therapies, while also exploring promising new approaches like utilizing patients’ own immune systems to fight the disease.
Nadim Ahmed, President, Hematology and Oncology, Celgene, notes that, “It is not just during the month of March, but every day throughout the year that we must continue to discover new ways to provide a brighter future for people with multiple myeloma. Through dedicated research and continued partnership with an amazing group of patients, caregivers, advocacy organizations and researchers, it is our hope that one day we can find a cure for this devastating disease.”
[i] World Health Organization. GLOBOCAN 2012: World. http://globocan.iarc.fr/Pages/fact_sheets_population.aspx. Accessed February 2018.
[ii] ASCO Cancer.net. Multiple Myeloma: Statistics. Available at https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/multiple-myeloma/statistics. Accessed February 2018.
[iii] NIH National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. Cancer Stat Facts: Myeloma. Available at https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/mulmy.html. Accessed February 2018.
[vi] American Cancer Society. Can Multiple Myeloma Be Prevented? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html. Accessed February 2018.
[vii] NIH National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2014. Myeloma. Available at https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2014/browse_csr.php?sectionSEL=18&pageSEL=sect_18_table.09.html. Accessed February 2018.