Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that many people have never heard of. Unlike cancers that are composed of solid, palpable tumors, multiple myeloma affects white blood cells. As cancerous plasma cells replicate in the bone marrow, it can become harder for a person's healthy white blood cells to produce vital infection fighting antibodies. Onset of multiple myeloma typically happens later in life. For patients with slow growing disease, often times monitoring suffices for a period of time. For patients that are symptomatic (bone pain, nausea, weight loss, infections) and require treatment, there are a variety of options to slow progression of this relatively rare disease. The type of therapy recommended is based on the location of the myeloma and degree of systemic spread.
Being diagnosed with a relatively uncommon cancer limits the amount of insight, experiences or advice a patient can glean from loved ones. Patients start from scratch when it comes to researching and understanding a relatively unheard-of condition such as multiple myeloma. There are numerous treatment components that an oncologist could look to use at different points along the journey and many of these are standard tools such as chemotherapy and radiation. For some patients, a stem cell transplant may be recommended in an effort to catalyze the patient’s body to generate healthy cells. Transplant is a serious procedure with a slow recovery process. For patients with recurrent disease, looking at experimental options under evaluation though clinical trials may be warranted. Patients and their loved ones should be sure to ask about and discuss all possible options, including timelines, side effects and any implications for the "new normal" after cancer.
Clinical research efforts have led to many newer treatments demonstrated to help multiple myeloma patients achieve remission and experience better overall quality of life. Most notably these options include immunotherapy and specifically, CAR-T cell therapy. Both of these seek to harness the patient immune system to fight off cancer cells. CAR-T was approved in the US in 2017; with this approach, a patient’s T cells (white blood cells that are infection fighters) are collected, modified outside of the body to be able to identify myeloma cells, and then infused back into the patient in order to attack any present cancerous cells.
Some of the most cutting-edge therapies for multiple myeloma have been approved only in the past few years. Offerings that are available as standard care today were experimental not that long ago. For patients with multiple myeloma, clinical research as a care option may offer access to treatment options not readily available at a nearby cancer center. Want to learn more? Register here to receive updates about recruiting trials and research opportunities.
A variety of articles on topics of interest to those diagnosed with multiple myeloma.