Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cell, often has no symptoms until a broken bone occurs. Nearly 27,000 people in America were diagnosed in 2015 with 11,000 dying from the disease. Ten years ago, chemotherapy was the only drug treatment available with a survival rate of three years. Of all types of cancer, multiple myeloma has made the most progress with new drug development.
Current treatments enable patients to lives nearly normal lives for long periods, while others relapse quickly. Side effects range from heart damage to nerve pain, with treatments costing $8,000 to $14,000 per month. The number of options gives patients who relapse multiple medications to try until they find one that works for them.
The cause of multiple myeloma is unknown and is more common in men and patients over 65. African Americans have twice the risk. Cancerous cells grow in the bone marrow, displacing healthy cells and leading to kidney problems, bone fractures, and anemia. Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro and Walmart founder Sam Walton are some of the prominent people who have died from the disease, while Tom Brokaw continues his battle.
The course of treatment depends on the patient’s stage of disease and general health status. Many patients receive a stem-cell transplant, putting the cancer in remission, but it often returns later. As a result of scientific advances in the mid-2000s, new drugs Thalomid, Revlimid, and Velcade have changed the future for multiple myeloma patients. Other new drugs Darzalex and Empliciti stop the progression of the disease for five to eight months.
Researchers are looking to determine the optimal use and combinations of drugs. A 1000 patient study has compiled a database linking genetic data with clinical information. Tracking these patients over time helps determine who is benefiting from which drug combination. In December, an analysis of the data shows that a combination of Velcade, Revlimid, and dexamethasone is more effective than either one used separately. Other companies continue to develop new treatments which allow the body’s own immune system to fight off the cancerous plasma cells.
Winslow, Ron. “New weapons in the Fight Against Multiple Myeloma.” Health. The Wall Street Journal, 4 Jan 2016. Web. 7 Jan 2016.