New Weapons in the Fight Against Multiple Myeloma

Hope and more options for patients after the FDA’s approval of three drugs for the blood cancer

Few types of cancer research have witnessed more progress in the past decade than the fight against the blood cancer known as multiple myeloma.

There are 10 multiple myeloma treatments on the market, including three that won Food and Drug Administration approval during a remarkable 15-day span in November. Other medications in the pipeline hold promise to meet patients’ hopes for even further gains.

Patients on average can now expect to live about seven years after diagnosis, and doctors expect the newest drugs may help extend that to a decade or more. By comparison, prospects for patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma just over a decade ago were grim. Chemotherapy was essentially their only drug-treatment option and the average survival period was three years.

“Of all the cancers, in terms of progress in the last 10 years, multiple myeloma is at the top of the list,” says S. Vincent Rajkumar, professor of medicine and a hematologist/oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.

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There are potentially serious side effects from the drugs. Some may cause heart damage, while others carry risk of nerve pain in the hands and feet. They are also expensive: Treatments can average between $8,000 and $14,000 a month.