Multiple Myeloma — what is it? Is there a cure?

Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of the cells in the bone marrow that affects 750,000 people worldwide; it is an uncontrolled growth of plasma cells which attack and destroy bone and damage the kidneys and immune system.

In the United States, there are about 100,000 people living with the disease; each year another 20,000 are identified and about 10,000 die. There’s no cure, but it is now treatable.

“Most of us had never heard of myeloma when we were told we had it,” wrote Jerry Walton, leader of the Southeastern Virginia Multiple Myeloma Support Group, that supports people from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg. On Monday, March 11, Poquoson will proclaim Multiple Myeloma Awareness month for March.

Another nonprofit that helps patients is the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society.

Typical symptoms include: persistent or worsening tiredness due to anemia or reduced kidney function, sudden pain due to a broken bone in the spine, ribs, or elsewhere, recurrent unexplained infections, such as pneumonia, sinus, or urinary infection.

Other signs are pain with movement and/or at night/rest; tenderness/swelling of bone areas; swelling, shortness of breath or evidence of heart or kidney failure.

Lab test findings may include: Anemia, possible low white blood cells or blood platelets, increased blood calcium, increased blood creatinine and/or blood urea nitrogen (BUN), increased protein level in the blood and/or urine.

Key finding:

Presence of monoclonal protein in the blood and/or urine (M-SPIKE). The M-SPIKE is produced by the cancerous myeloma cells present in the bone marrow.
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Two new drugs for treatment have been approved recently for patients whose blood cancer returned after developing resistance to older treatments. Original treatment included harsh chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant. Kyprolis is one of the new drugs, an intravenous treatment. The newest is a pill, Pomalyst, which was approved last month.

In the 1990s it was discovered that thalidomide had a positive impact; led to development of Velcade (2003) and Revlimid (2006). Doctors and insurance companies push the use of older drugs first as disease tends to recur.

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