Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, discusses the types of tests that myeloma patients should undergo before choosing therapy, at diagnosis, and if they relapse.
Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.
What testing should take place before choosing a myeloma treatment?
I thought I could answer this question in an indirect way first.
I just wanted to let the audience know that anyone, including those that are not in the medical field, can create an account with the nccn.org. That’s the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s website.
And from there they can download the myeloma guidelines, which are available to all myeloma providers as well. And in the guidelines, there are sections for workup, treatment, how to follow patients with myeloma, and many other things.
So, going back to the question, the first patient encounter will likely include a thorough history and physical exam. Initial lab work includes blood counts, the serum chemistries so we know about the liver and kidney function, multiple myeloma markers. And patients about get very familiar with monoclonal protein, the serum immunoglobulins, and the serum-free light chains.
These are used as the surrogates for responses when you’re undergoing treatment for the myeloma. We will also at the first visit probably also do a 24-hour urine collection, and that’s looking for the abnormal protein in the urine.
There’s imaging. In the past, we used to do x-rays head to toe. That’s sometimes called the myeloma survey or the skeletal survey. But the new recommendations are actually looking for something a bit more sensitive.
So, at our practice, what we do is a PET scan.
So, that includes functional information as well the images themselves. And some institutions may do a PET scan head to toe using low-dose radiation. The final test we will do in patients with newly diagnosed myeloma is a bone marrow biopsy and an aspirate.
So, the biopsy’s looking at the bone itself and the architecture. And the aspirate, you take the liquid part of the bone marrow, and you can ascertain a lot of information including the burden of myeloma when the patient’s newly diagnosed.
What do you mean by “burden”?
You can quantify the number of cancerous plasma cells in the bone marrow. So, some of the information says you have a healthy amount of good bone marrow cells, 50 percent, 60 percent, for example, but of that 50 percent, 60 percent, maybe 80 percent is taken over by myeloma. So, you will get burden of myeloma information from there.
What additional testing should take place following a relapse?
I’ll start that response by first talking about the types of relapses, and there are two broad categories. If we see the myeloma coming back as just the monoclonal protein going back up from its lowest, or maybe the serum-free light chain going up – and there are very specific criteria for what defiance a relapse. But if it’s just a number, we call it a biochemical relapse.
On the other side, there’s a clinical relapse. And at that point, there might be new end organ damage. We’ve heard of the acronym CRAB when we’re describing myeloma. That stands for hypercalcemia, renal or kidney insufficiency, anemia, and bone disease. So, these are end organ damage directly from the multiple myeloma.
So, typically, we’ll try to change the management at biochemical relapse, because a new organ injury may contribute to the patient’s frailty, or it might even limit the treatment options. The testing out of relapse is pretty similar to the first diagnosis. We’ll repeat the history and the physical example, the labs, imaging. And more often than not, I’ll also recommend a bone marrow biopsy to see is that myeloma changing genetically, and does it help me kind of determine new treatment options.