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Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Krina Patel reviews the difference between relapsed and refractory myeloma and how these distinctions may impact care and treatment.

Dr. Krina Patel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Patel is involved in research and cares for patients with multiple myeloma. Learn more about Dr. Patel, here.

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The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

Myeloma Induction and Consolidation Therapy Defined



Dr. Patel, could you define what relapsed myeloma is?

Dr. Patel:     

Yes, so as of today, for the majority of our patients we can’t cure myeloma to the point where we treat it, and it’s gone forever, right? I’m hoping one day we get there. And we’re getting better, but we’re not there yet. However, myeloma’s very, very treatable. So, what relapsed means is that, once you’ve had initial therapy after you’ve been diagnosed, our goal is to get that myeloma to as low as possible level so that it hibernates as long as possible. But eventually, that myeloma’s going to start waking back up. So, when it does, that’s called a relapse. That now, the proteins are coming up, the myeloma cells are growing and we need to do something to knock it back down again. So, that’s relapsed disease.


How is that different from refractory myeloma?

Dr. Patel:

That’s a great question. We talk about relapsed refractory all the time for myeloma. So, refractory actually means that your myeloma started waking up while on a certain medication. So, if you were on no medicines and then your myeloma came up, that’s considered relapsed. That’s not refractory. However, biggest example I can give you is when patients are on maintenance therapy after stem cell transplant, for instance. When they’re all on maintenance and their myeloma starts coming up while on maintenance, then they are considered refractory to that drug; so, if it’s lenalidomide (Revlimid), if it’s bortezomib (Velcade), whichever one it is.

So, any time the myeloma’s coming up while on active treatment, you become refractory. So, we talk about triple refractory or penta-refractory, and what that really means is how many drugs is your myeloma refractory to.

So, if you’re refractory to a proteasome inhibitor plus an immunomodulatory drug plus a CD38 antibody, right – I can give you examples of all of those, but basically different categories –then you’re considered triple refractory. And the more refractory it is, the harder it is to treat and the more novel therapies we need.


So, if a patient is taking three or four different drugs, how can you pin it down to know which drug or all of them are causing the refractory myeloma?

Dr. Patel:

So, it would be all of them. Let’s say, salvage therapy. You’re on three different medications or four different medications, usually three. We would say, if the myeloma’s coming up while you’re on all of them, you’re technically refractory to now all those medications.


All of those. Okay, all right.