Veteran NBC broadcaster Tom Brokaw recently made news instead of reporting the day’s events when he announced he was diagnosed with cancer.
According to NBC News’ website, Brokaw learned at the Mayo Clinic in August that he has multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects blood cells in the bone marrow.
NBC News reports Brokaw’s doctors are “optimistic about the outcome of the treatment.” And despite his diagnosis, Brokaw said he’s still “the luckiest guy I know.”
As a hematologist and oncologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, Dr. Reema Batra tends to agree that Brokaw’s treatment will have a positive outcome.
“I feel optimistic for him,” she said. “It’s very much a disease you can control.”
However, Batra said that same good prognosis didn’t necessarily exist a decade ago. She said a diagnosis of multiple myeloma in the past was “essentially a death sentence.” Now, however, recent advances in medicine are allowing those with the disease to live longer.
Among cancers, Batra said multiple myeloma has had “one of the biggest advances in treatment,” in the last 10 years.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, which produce antibodies that fight disease and protect the body from multiple substances. Batra said when multiple myeloma manifests itself, something goes wrong in the DNA — a mutation happens, the disease “clones itself” and starts disrupting other parts of the body.
For instance, Batra said the disease can affect the bones, kidneys and immune system. Those who have the disease may experience bone pain and could suffer from fractures following even minor traumas. Patients may also have anemia, frequent infections and symptoms of kidney problems, such as dehydration.
Among cancers, multiple myeloma is much less common than other forms of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, roughly 24,050 new cases will be diagnosed this year in the U.S., and that about 11,090 deaths are expected to happen in 2014 from the disease.
Batra said the cause of the disease is yet unknown, but if someone has a close relative, such as a parent with multiple myeloma, their chances of contracting it are higher than that of the average person. Other risk factors include being over 65 years old and male.
When it comes to treating the disease, Batra said past protocol involved chemotherapy to eliminate cancer cells in the body, followed by a transplant to replenish bone marrow cells destroyed by chemo. It was a procedure, Batra said, that’s “just as harsh as it sounds.”
But in recent years, she said treatments have advanced to the point where medicines target and kill myeloma cells while leaving normal, healthy cells alone, which allows patients to continue living normally without the side effects of chemotherapy.
Meanwhile, she said there’s now a long list of treatments doctors can offer patients, so if one medication stops working or isn’t effective, there are others that can be tried in a “stepladder approach.”
“There are different options out there,” she said. “The patients are treated more like they have a chronic disease.”