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Good News for Future of Myeloma Treatment, Still Addressing Race-Associated Risks

Respected myeloma expert, Dr. Ajay Kumar Nooka, provides an update from the 61st American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting. Dr. Nooka shares why this is a good time in myeloma research and the important work that remains around myeloma treatment disparities for people of color.

About Diverse Health Hub:

Diverse Health Hub is a health equity education and awareness channel producing educational content for both patients and providers in order to bridge the gaps between healthcare practices and the needs of multicultural communities.  Diverse Health Hub works directly with a diverse patient and respected provider population in multiple therapeutic areas to promote cultural competence in healthcare. The organization believes access to these diverse perspectives cultivates culturally competent communities.

Related Programs:

ASH 2019: Disparities Around Accessing Health Technology Revealed for a Subset of Myeloma Patients

ASH 2019: Multiple Regimens, Deeper Responses in Multiple Myeloma Treatment

The Empowered Myeloma Thriver and Expert Chat

The Empowered Myeloma Thriver and Expert Chat from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Nina Shah, a specialist in multiple myeloma, discusses what newly diagnosed myeloma patients need to know.

Dr. Nina Shah is a specialist in blood diseases who focuses on treating multiple myeloma at University of California San Francisco. More about this expert here.


Transcript:

John Rosengard:

Hi, and welcome to the Patient Empowerment Network Program. My name’s John Rosengard, and I’m a myeloma patient survivor. I just wanted to tell you a little bit about our program today. I’m joined by my hematologist and oncologist, Dr. Nina Shah, from the University of California San Francisco. Dr. Shah, could you give us a little bit of your background, please?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Hi. My name’s Nina. I’m really thrilled to be here at this event. I have been at the University of California San Francisco since 2017. And before that, I was at MD Anderson Cancer Center. My clinical focus is in multiple myeloma, and my research focus is in immunotherapy and cellular therapy for multiple myeloma. I look after hundreds of patients with multiple myeloma, and our clinic here at UCSF as 1,500 active myeloma patients, and I really love participating in a mixture of clinical trials, which includes antibody therapy, novel drug combinations, novel agents, phase one trials, and chimeric antigen receptor T-cells or CAR T-cells.

John:

That’s great. Thank you. I’ll give a brief rundown of my myeloma journey for other patients who may be tuning into this. I learned that I had multiple myeloma from the back-pain route, I guess I’d call it. I was diagnosed at UCSF in November of 2017 and started my treatment with Dr. Shah a few weeks later. The treatment involved me joining a four medication clinical trial and then having an autologous stem cell transplant a few months later in May of 2018.

After that, moved into the consolidation and maintenance phases of treatment. Consolidation brought back my quality of life pretty quickly, but, in maintenance, which will stretch out for another year to come, really just means testing and monthly infusions for me. Dr. Shah, do you have anything else to add about the clinical trials that I’m involved in or how patients might navigate the clinical trial process?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah. So, it was a great partnership that you and I had for the clinical trial, and one of the things that this particular trial was looking at is understanding how many drugs are good for a myeloma patient upfront. As you know, we – the standard now, give three drugs upfront, but this explored possibly using an additional drug. And in your case, this drug was daratumumab, which is an immunotherapy. It’s interesting that we’re having this interview today because this drug, daratumumab, was just FDA approved to be given, upfront, exactly in your setting, with a transplant.

And so, even though your study is still maturing, the study before yours is confirming sort of what we thought might be true. So, it’s hard to say every detail that goes along with getting into a clinical trial, but I think one of the things that’s really important is a really nice conversation and partnership between the patient and the provider because it’s our responsibility, as providers, to explain the disease, why it happens, what are the clinical manifestations, what pain you may be having, what other things might be abnormal in your labs and, for you, as a patient, to feel like your symptoms are being addressed, but then, also, what there is as a clear plan for your treatment.

And in this way, the discussion about clinical trials really naturally enters because, if there is a clinical trial available, even in the upfront setting, like as what’s happened to you, it’s worth it to consider because that gives an additional opportunity for the patient and the physician to talk more about the disease and also talk about, what are the ongoing questions that we have in our study of multiple Myeloma? So, in this way, I think the conversation between the patient and the physician can help not only to understand the disease better, but also understand clinical trial options together.

John:

Yeah, absolutely. The treatment selection process I found to be enormously important because, again, it’s the first part of fighting multiple myeloma directly. To piggyback off what you just said, some people might think that having a clinical trial as their front line or first treatment is a little unusual, but I didn’t think so. My initial reaction and research was that the T-cell therapies or the CAR T treatment option, which was still incredibly new and innovative in 2017, was really for serious relapse and refractory cases. And those patients were getting access to CAR T-cells first, and that counted me out as a frontline or a first-time newly diagnosed patient.

But also, some evidence was really coming out. The three-drug therapies were adding years of high-quality life as opposed to the two drug therapies that were used not that long ago. The research, however, was a little contradictory because none of the information that I found in that first faithful Google search was dated. So, I would find information from 10 years ago that was incredibly pessimistic about the options and the number of years of high-quality life, as well as the, I’d say, turnover in treatment options and the aggressive number of clinical trials that were being offered within the Myeloma patient community.

That didn’t come out until, I guess, my second or third faithful Google search, but it was really helpful as a layperson because my initial reaction was additional medications. And I brought along a show and tell for us. Here’s the additional medications.

Dr. Nina Shah:

Oh, good.

John:

– and here’s the backup if those don’t work. I don’t take those now, but it’s not inconsequential to say, “It’s really important to understand the multiplying effect.” I’ll call it that as a layperson. The multiplying effect and the quick or measurable response. So, for newly diagnosed patients and their caregivers who might notice that treatment selection is a vital first step of the process, Dr. Shah, that requires learning a new vocabulary and acting when clearer data is ready and available. What general processes do you try to bring to a new patient when they’re just getting started on this journey?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah, I think you make a really good point that the availability of information can be a blessing and a curse. So, a lot of my patients – actually, even in the past 10 years, I’ve noticed a difference, that people coming in and they know more about the disease because of things like Google and other information portals that we have, which I think is great, but also absolutely needs to be digested with a little bit of context from each patient’s particular case.

So, I think one of the main things that we, as providers, can do is educate the patient on how this disease comes about, and that’s one of the first things I do when I meet a patient. Saying, “Okay, do you know what you have? Has someone told you?” Because even if not everybody has a medical or science background, it’s pretty simple to explain that myeloma itself is a cancer of one of the immune cells and what the things happen – what they’ve happened because of that particular cell growing. And if patients can understand that, then they can look at their labs and interpret their data because, remember, now, we all have access to our labs, which a lot of my patients didn’t have 10 years ago, and we look.

We look at our little portals, and we try to see what the lab values are, what the anemia is, etc. And one thing that’s really critical to interpreting myeloma labs, for many patients, not all, is understanding the myeloma profile, which includes the SPEP, or serum protein electrophoresis, and then the light chain, the free kappa, free lambda, and sometimes the urine protein electrophoresis. And learning how to read those three things can actually help a patient feel very empowered because they don’t have to wait for every visit to talk to the doctor about their results. And the honest truth is, sometimes, every doctor doesn’t have time to e-mail every patient after every result. So, it’s a good way to get educated upfront, empower the patient, and say, “Okay, I now know how to interpret my labs, and I will work with you. You and I are gonna work together. If we see something abnormal together, we’ll chase it.”

And similarly, the bone marrow results – because those are also – I mean, even doctors have a hard time interpreting those. It’s important to go over the actual words that mean something to both the doctor and the patient at the initial diagnosis. And I think that’s another way that people can be empowered as they start their journey.

John:

Would you say that it’s easy or difficult for a patient or a caregiver to get bogged down in detail as they’re picking up the vocabulary, picking up the processes available to them?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah, I think that’s definitely patient dependent and caregiver dependent. What I’ve noticed – and I know I have a skewed perspective because I practice at an academic center, but what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people want to know. They want to know the details, and, at first, it’s a lot of information to digest because, the day that they’re seeing you for the first time, we’re talking about disease and prognosis and risk. And maybe, the second time, we’re talking about treatment and eventual transplant. But each time, I do show or I talk about their “markers”, and we talk about the labs. Each time that we have a visit, it’s a chance for patients to get more details and to digest those details more.

So, if-if they’re detail-oriented, that actually ends up being a good thing, uh, because then, as time goes on, they feel like, “Okay, I have an idea of what’s going on. I know what to look for.” But that doesn’t mean you have to be. Some patients would rather just have their provider tell them what they need to know, and they don’t wanna be a slave to the lab, and that’s fine, too. Either way is fine as long as both the patient and the provider know how to navigate each system.

I think that one of the things that you kind of already brought up is what tools that you guys, as patients, have, particularly within electronic medical records, and this is actually something relatively new for all of us. Like I said, 10 years ago, we didn’t use it as much. But now, you have things like the MyChart app, and then you have social media. We have patient advocacy groups. If you had to look at all that, what would you say is the most useful for you?

John:

I’d say, a little selfishly, it was following your suggestion to follow you on Twitter, to keep up with the research because you’re a great filter for all of the content that’s out there. I know a few of the doctors that are very active in the multiple myeloma community are thoroughly well published. They’re speaking on a regular basis. And your Twitter feed, by the way, ninashah33 – just ninashah33 all one term.

You filter that out for me, so I have a running chance at actually finishing it in an hour when I pull it up because the content that you bring together is some highlights about what medications are working, what therapies are coming out that are that are combinations of medications – stem cell transplant, CAR T-cell therapy, and so on.

And in getting up the learning curve, which I think every patient and caregiver has got a duty to do, is a lot easier if there’s someone saying that there’s some raw research in the UK. There’s some raw research in these medical centers here in the U.S. Follow them. Follow these doctors. You’ll get a good read on what’s the curve. I think that that was a lifesaver because I could’ve really spent 10 hours a week just getting background and just getting comfortable with the content. And at some points, it was a little unnerving to find out that there’s a 50/50 chance of the life expectancy being measured in a very short time span versus having the forecast that you could really be returning to your life.

But I travel quite a bit for my work. You travel quite a bit for your work. To be able to get back to that pretty quickly was evident a month after my stem cell transplant, which I remember ticked you off a little bit that I should be just saying that I can’t just stroll in the San Francisco Airport and go wherever I wanted to. I had to give a little bit of thought about my compromised immune system, which I well and truly did. But again, going off of the filtered information as opposed to the raw information was a big plus for me.

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah, I mean, that was one of the things, I think, for you and I, as a doctor/patient relationship, that I saw you were really focusing on things – that you wouldn’t ask, necessarily, “Okay, when’s this gonna be cured? When’s this gonna be cured?” But rather, “Okay, I know that there can be times between my state right now and eventual potential progression or not, and how do you tell a patient – if you see a patient who’s newly diagnosed, how do you tell them to focus on those types of things so that they can bite off small pieces and go day to day, get back to their life, and not focus on just one thing about, “Oh, is this gonna be cured ever?” What advice do you think you can help people with that?

John:

Well, my first thing is – and this is me being me, but I built a spreadsheet. I built a giant spreadsheet of my lab data, going back to, really, the 1990s. Nothing to do with UCSF’s treatment, but just I wanted to put it all in one place so I had just a reference point to start with.

And it gave me a silly sense of control, I guess, to say, “I can now detect if there’s a very, very slight change in the IgG kappa reading from month to month to month. I can be on top of it just like you are.” That doesn’t give me an MD or a license to practice medicine, but it gives me the ability to at least say, “Is this anything to be concerned about, or is this still in the error bar of I’m still okay? And we haven’t gone up here. We haven’t gone down here. We’re still sort of moving along over time.”

And that comfort level of just building some sensitivity to what data mattered and what data could still move around and be perfectly normal, that sensitivity that’s – Microsoft Excel doesn’t give you that. The raw lab data doesn’t give you that. That’s where your position and honest conversation can take you to a good understanding of how those different variables interplay with one another and how a sudden spike in one can be indicative of nothing more than having a cold or picking up the flu, unfortunately, during that time of the year, cold and flu season.

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah. Yeah, I think that, patients like you, who are either, maybe, just starting therapy or maybe just starting to get engaged with their process, trying to have more control, power, and, also, education about what they’re doing, it’s really important to ask questions to their provider. And what you said is right. You’re looking at the labs on the spreadsheet. I’m looking at it at the electronic medical record. We’re both human, so I may miss something. And I try not to, but – and you may catch something.

Even though we have our “roles” as provider and patient, we are on this together. So, I think it’s really important for patients to ask things of their doctor. They should never feel shy. I know it’s sort of hard because you’re talking to a stranger and, yet, someone you have a relationship with. So, it’s kinda interesting. You may not want to question that person, but you should with all our capable thinking and processing information different ways. And it’s really nice – I actually like it when the patients ask me, “Well, what do you think about that?” And I may have not thought about it in the way that they’re thinking about it because they may tie it into a symptom that they’re having, or, like you said, you may have a virus or something and say, “I have this virus,” and maybe I was worried about this IgG, but it turns out that you had a recent virus. So, they’re all ways that we can put information together and, more information, the better.

So, one thing I would just say to patients and what I feel like you benefit from is, ask questions. Ask questions about lab interpretations, about what next steps are, just questions about what’s been going on lately. And I think that will give education and, I think, ultimately, will give the patient more power.

John:

Mm-hmm. And just to go a little further into that point, every month, I come in for my lab work as part of the participation in the clinical trial. Other patients may be coming in on a less frequent basis, perhaps every 90 or 180 days or once a year if they’ve got a, for example, smoldering myeloma or other conditions. My point in bringing this up is that one of those may be – and if we all live long enough, one of those probably will be – one to say, “It’s not getting better, and this condition is getting a little worse.” That’s another step I’m ready for, to just say, “What are our options at that point? What treatment options do we have available?”

Because it’s not a one and done. It’s not like having a broken bone where you can just say, “Set it, get it in a cast, take good care of it, and keep the weight off of it. And then, six to eight weeks later, something new will be ready to happen.” This is an ongoing battle with them and being a part of a clinical trial that does help the 30,000 newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients here in the U.S. be a little closer to some effective treatments is, I think, all part of the healthy part of the equation. Any further thoughts on first steps for those newly diagnosed patients?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah. I think, as you already mentioned, things like the Patient Power website, Myeloma Crowd, healthtree.org, Myeloma Beacon, MMRF – all of these are really important places where patients can get good quality information. I like hearing that my patients have gotten information from other people. It’s okay to get a second opinion. It’s totally fine. You should feel in control of your health and your decision making.

John:

Absolutely. Just a little bit about Dr. Shah, from my perspective, she’s my go-to person for multiple myeloma at UCSF, but UCSF is like any big institution. If you like processes, multiple myeloma is your condition. If you want to talk about faster infusions, because they might be taking too long, there’s a team, but she’s not the right person to talk to directly. If you wanna understand lab results, she’s the right person. But if you have trouble logging in or with the helpline being available for you, there’s a team for that. If you have questions about billing and insurance, there’s another team for that. Team management support groups, another team.

UCSF has got depth and strength, and other regional medical centers that have, I guess, the specialists, rather – a large specialist team in multiple myeloma – will, inevitably, have that layering of people. And I found that my treatment team grew from my one best friend or two best friends, my general practitioner here in the Bay Area, California – it grew to 10 people to include Dr. Shah, and then it grew to 25 people. Before I knew it, I had 25 best friends who wanted to know how I was doing and how my symptoms were relative to subsequent treatment stages.

And it took time for me to get to know them and for them to get to know me, but that investment of time and effort to, again, be part of the team and be part of the equation and processes was an important part of just getting through the clinical trial efficiently and effectively and then just being ready for the next steps of, again, prospectively, full remission, relapse, refractory, and just a whole variety of outcomes that have yet to play out over the years and decades to come.

So, with that in mind, I just wanted to move on to a couple of questions that have come up from different participants at the Patient Power website. The copays for multiple myeloma drugs can be very expensive. Any advice on how to deal with that, or are there programs that can help?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah, this is a really important question. I’ve frequently noticed this, especially in my Medicare population, particularly with oral chemotherapy, for example, lenalidomide. There are patient assistance programs, which are company-specific, and you can ask the company directly. They usually have a hotline, or you can ask, at your particular oncologist office, if they have a connection with a local area rep who can put you in contact with that helpline. This is a frustrating part, and what I’ve been trying to do is, when I meet with a lot of these representatives, I try to take your complaint about this to them directly and say, “Look, my patients are not gonna get your drugs if it’s not affordable.” And ultimately, that means that that drug company needs to work with all the insurance companies, including Medicare drug coverage, to supply this for patients. So, that’s what I can do on my end. And then, from your end, really working with the patient assistance programs. They do exist, but they’re a pain. They’re one more thing you have to do, which it’s hard for us to tell you, but we also want you to get the drug.

John:

Second question comes from Jefferey. It’s been two years since I was diagnosed with smoldering myeloma. My oncologist said that my numbers are not at a point for treatment today, but he has me doing bloodwork and bone x-rays every three months. This is causing me a lot of stress and mental anxiety. Is this a normal situation to be diagnosed and not doing anything about it? Any advice on how to cope with the stress and anxiety of waiting to be treated? What do you think, Dr. Shah?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah, this is a really important question because there are a lot of patients out there who are diagnosed with smoldering multiple myeloma, or what we call asymptomatic myeloma, meaning that you have some plasma cells in your bone marrow, and you also have some evidence of M-protein or light chain, but you don’t have enough to require treatment, and the first thing I can say is there’s reason for that; because, as of now, we don’t have any data to show that treating you early before you develop symptoms is going to prolong your life.

That being said, there are some clinical trials that look at patients, what we call high-risk smoldering myeloma, to be enrolled in clinical trials of treatment versus not. I have mixed feelings on this because I’m one of those people that likes to preserve quality of life as much as possible, and most of my smoldering myeloma patients are full-time at work, not doing anything else. And so, what I always tell these patients – and I don’t wanna put this on every other physician out there, but I always say, “Let me do the worrying. You come in for your labs. You come in for your assessment.”

I usually do a bone marrow and either PET or MRI every year because that can change decisions. But I always tell my patients, get the labs, walk out of the lab building – out of your Quest or whatever it is – and let me do the worrying because there is nothing you can change, and I want it to be something that’s just a part of monitoring but not anxiety. In response to the question, it is totally normal to get that frequency of checking, and that’s really on us, as a partnership, to make sure that you feel comfortable with that frequency, but also that your provider is checking up on the labs when they come to the boss.

John:

What do you think are some of the mistakes that a newly diagnosed patient can make about their treatment or about their recovery?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Well, that’s a hard question because I think the patient, really, can never make a mistake because, ultimately, it’s about what the patient wants. But I will say that, a lot of times, patients think that they can not get treatment for symptomatic myeloma. For example, they have a new plasmacytoma on their shoulder or have broken a bone or a new anemia. And they’ll say, “Well, I just wanna use natural means to get rid of this.”

And I don’t have any problems with natural medicine or anything like that, but my education and experience has taught me that it’s not gonna be enough to stave off this really aggressive malignancy, and the last thing I want someone to do is to break a bone in their spine and then become paralyzed. So, I always say, “I’m happy to work with you and whoever your naturopath is or whoever your other physician is, but I truly feel that you need treatment, and then I want that to get through to you.” And that’s just my experience. But again, I always do try to respect what the patient’s wishes are.

John:

Another participant on the Patient Power website asks, “Is there a resource for local oncologists to reach out for information and collaboration about multiple myeloma?”

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah. Now, depending on where you are, you’re probably in touch with the local, maybe, academic hospital, and it’s hard to know – just depends on where you are in the U.S. But I really do like going to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation website because they have information there, and you can actually contact them, and they would be able to put you in touch with someone who might be a myeloma expert. I mean, you already said it. You can even look on Twitter and follow myeloma feeds and actually do a direct message to any one of us. Usually, one of us gets the message, and we’ll respond back.

Most everyone has a way to contact through the American Society of Hematology. That’s another way that physicians who are hematologists contact each other. If you really want to get your doctor to somebody who’s a myeloma expert, it should not take more than three tries of contacting this person or that person to be able to get through. My email is public, and other people’s are as well, and I usually respond. So, it’s more a question of making that initial effort. Okay, I’m gonna go through a web search and find this person’s e-mail and send them a message. But we are always willing and happy to answer these questions because, a lot of times, these patients may wanna come for a second opinion or consider a clinical trial or just need some advice, and that’s totally fine.

John:

Just to add to that, Dr. Shah, one of the things that I’ve noted from MMRF and other organizations is, periodically, there are patient summits that are offered all over the country, and they’re generally – in my experience so far, is that there are at least 500 to 3,000-person beds. They’re quite large, and it may be, I guess, comforting, to a degree, to meet and be met by others that have the same concerns about multiple myeloma as a patient or a caregiver and see that there is some strength in numbers. Do you have any closing thoughts on our talk today?

Dr. Nina Shah:

Yeah. I really like the point you said about meeting other people with this disease and other caregivers. We’re fortunate enough, in the Bay Area, to have a patient-centered support group, and I really like doing programs with them.

And what I’ve noticed about all the patients who attend something like that, even if it’s a cancer, in general, support group, is that they can share stories and sort of talk. I mean, it’s important. It’s a really huge thing you’re going through, and you need to talk to other people about it and people who understand. So, it’s great to get a support group even if it’s just cancer, even better if you have a myeloma support group. And online, there are support groups as well. So, whatever you can do to make yourself feel not alone will also add to your empowerment.

John:

Well, thank you, Dr. Shah. It’s been great catching up with you today. Thank you for participating in this event, and that is it for us. Thanks for joining us.


Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Is Multiple Myeloma Hereditary? What you need to know

What empowered patients need to know about Multiple Myeloma

This disease is a type of blood cancer that spreads through plasma cells and attacks bone marrow (the bone center). While healthy plasma cells typically help the human body to fight against infection, disease-affected plasma cells produce abnormal antibodies called M Protein.

M Protein might result in tumors or kidney damage, damaging bones and severely affecting the body’s immune system.

Multiple Myeloma is, in fact, a high level of M Protein in the human body. As Multiple Myeloma finds its roots in the body, affected plasma cells release chemicals that cause bones to dissolve. The affected area of bone is known as a lytic lesion. As it grows, plasma cells begin to seep out of bone marrow and cause more organ damage. Multiple Myeloma affects bone marrow in the spine, pelvic bones, ribs, shoulders, and hips. This disease most often affects people age 40 and older, and chances of developing it increase with age. It affects men twice as often as women. It is the second most common form of blood cancer and the first most common to affect the skeleton.

Causes of Multiple Myeloma

The actual cause of malignant (infectious) plasma cells is still unknown. Proteins produced as a result of disease cause thickening of blood and deposits of proteins in organs that can affect the functions of kidneys, immune system and nervous system. Viruses, radiation exposures, and immune disorders may also trigger the disease.

The Role of plasma cells in the body

Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell found in bone marrow. Plasma cells play an important role assisting the body to fight against external attacks. A major part of the body’s immune system, plasma cells produce disease-fighting proteins called immunoglobulins, or antibodies.

Plasma cells develop from a type of white blood cell called B cells. Plasma cells produce antibodies to fight with disease and infection. Plasma cells produce different antibodies based on different types of disease, so various antibodies are present in the human body.

What does Multiple Myeloma do to plasma cells?

In Multiple Myeloma, healthy plasma cells transform themselves into malignant plasma cells (Myeloma cells) through an intricate, multistep process. Myeloma cells produce large amounts of a single abnormal antibody called M protein. Unlike normal antibodies, M protein does not fight infection. Malignant plasma cells multiply themselves and start replacing healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, resulting in decreased numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

In healthy bone marrow, another type of white blood cell known as a “B cell,” develops into an antibody-producing plasma cell when antigens enter the body. In Multiple Myeloma, DNA damage to B cells transforms normal plasma cells into malignant Multiple Myeloma cells. The cancerous cells multiply and start growing enormously thus making less room for normal plasma cells in bone marrow resultantly affecting the immune system to severe level.

How does this affect the body?

Multiple Myeloma plays the role of an enemy to the defensive system—the body’s white blood cells. As abnormal plasma cells start to replace normal cells, the reduction of healthy cells in the body causes anemia, excessive bleeding and decreased immunity. Growth of abnormal cells damages major body organs, such as the kidneys. In severe cases it causes tumors as well.

Most patients diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma have osteolytic lesions, which are weakened spots on bones. This bone destruction increases the risk of fractures. It can also lead to a serious condition called hypercalcemia (increased levels of calcium in the blood).  (See “Signs and Symptoms”).

Diagnosis and risk factors of Multiple Myeloma

Researchers have made several advancements to identify how this disease develops, yet the exact cause of Multiple Myeloma remains unidentified. Genetic mutations have found to play a role in Multiple Myeloma. Genes are just like the codes, or more precisely instructions, DNA provides to form proteins. Approximately 30,000 genes make up the human genome. Each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes that can be read in different ways to lump together about three proteins each. Copying each cell includes generating 23 pairs of chromosomes. During this process protein formation mutations may alternate resulting in a severe effect on proteins made by genes. Such error in protein formation may cause cells to grow and divide in an unconventional manner resulting in cancerous cells.

Basic factors involved in Multiple myeloma disease, role of genetic mutation and chromosome translocations which include turning unnecessary genes on while turning off necessary genes. These translocations are observed in almost 40% of cases of Multiple Myeloma.

Specific mutations have been identified as genetic risk factors for both developing Multiple Myeloma and likelihood of early relapse. For instance, chromosome 13 is deleted in Multiple Myeloma cells in about half of all cases. Additionally, chromosomal translocations (where pieces of a chromosome are swapped, turning some genes on when they should be off and vice versa) are observed in about 40% of Multiple Myeloma cases.

Despite these known genetic risk factors, Multiple Myeloma, like all cancers, is heterogeneous, meaning each case is unique. The genetic mutations that cause Multiple Myeloma in one person often differ from those that cause it in another. In fact, MMRF initiatives such as the Multiple Myeloma Immunology Initiative study have shown that Multiple Myeloma has at least 12 different genetic subtypes, rather than a single genetic makeup.

Common sites for bone damage

Multiple myeloma affects skull bones, spine, pelvis, long bones and compression in spinal cord. This disease spreads slowly and shows its complete sign when completely takes over the major bones in the body, especially the skull bones.

In severe cases, complete vertebrae damage causes compression of the spinal cord. Loss of bone integrity can cause pathological fracture.

Mechanism of Disease

  1. Plasma cell proliferation: anemia, bone marrow suppression, infection risk.
  2. Osteoclasts : bony lesions, fractures, vertebral collapse, spinal cord compression.
  3. Paraprotein: renal failure.
  4. Hypercalcemia: thirst, drowsiness, coma, polyuria.

Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

Based on Multiple Myeloma cases observed so far, following are the signs and symptoms of Multiple Myeloma:

  • Anemia,
  • Bleeding,
  • Nerve damage,
  • Skin lesions (rash),
  • Enlarged tongue (macroglossia),
  • Bone tenderness or pain (including back pain, weakness, fatigue, or tiredness),
  • Infections,
  • Pathologic bone fractures,
  • Back pain,
  • Spinal cord compression,
  • Kidney failure and/or other end-organ damage,
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss,
  • Constipation,
  • Hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood), and
  • Leg swelling.

 

Is Multiple Myeloma hereditary?

Multiple Myeloma is not considered a hereditary disease. While in some cases Multiple Myeloma may occur due to genetic abnormality, there is no evidence that heredity plays any role in its development. Research has shown several factors may contribute towards the development of Multiple Myeloma. While researchers have indicated a very slight chance that disease could be transferred from parents to their offspring,  it’s very uncommon for more than one member of a family to have multiple myeloma.

Stages of Multiple Myeloma

Progressive stages of Multiple Myeloma have been recognized as follows:

  • Smoldering: Multiple myeloma with no symptoms.
  • Stage I: Starts with anemia, relatively small amount of M protein, no bone damage.
  • Stage II: Severe anemia and M protein as well as bone damage.
  • Stage III: Huge concentration of M protein, anemia, kidney damage.

Tests types for diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma

Diagnosis includes a study of past medical history and a physical examination of the patient.  Bloodwork can then check platelet counts for a drastic reduction in white blood cells. Blood chemistry tests may include tests for BUN (blood urea nitrogen), creatinine levels, or uric acid. A bone marrow biopsy and aspiration can further examine the concentration of abnormal plasma cells in bone marrow.

Urine tests check the body’s protein level. A UPEP (urine protein electrophoresis) test checks the level of M Protein in the blood. UIFE (urine immunofixation electrophoresis) identifies the type of M Proteins present in the urine.

Genetic tests can check for abnormal chromosomes and genes. Different types of tests can examine cellular health. Bone marrow cells grow to make cells divide, so dividing cells can be examined. Plasma cells proliferation can be tested to identify the rate at which cells are dividing. A large number of cells dividing is a sign that cancer is growing fast.

Imaging Tests:

Imaging tests take pictures inside of the patient’s body. These tests are easy to undergo.
Bone survey imaging includes use of X-Rays to take pictures of your skeleton.  As Multiple Myeloma causes major bone damage, a bone survey depicts exactly how many and which bones have been damaged due to the disease.

An MRI Scan uses radio waves and powerful magnets to scan the body. An MRI scan targets the bone marrow for observation. This type of test reveal abnormal areas in the bone marrow where the abnormal plasma cells have affected the bone marrow. This test is far better than a bone survey test, as it reveals minor details of the bone marrow.

Treatment of Multiple Myeloma

Treatment of Multiple Myeloma varies from patient to patient as cases become more and more complex. But some commonly treatment practices are explained briefly below.

Radiation therapy: Treats a small mass of affected cells. Radiation therapy normally targets the damaged part of bone (where cancerous cells have affected bone causing severe damage). Radiation therapy includes use of high energy rays to kill and stop growth of damaged cells stopping cancer growth. ERBT (external beam radiation therapy) is the most common type of therapy done.

Surgery: Involves removing or repairing of a body part. It can also fix the bones that have been damaged due to Multiple Myeloma.

Chemotherapy: Involves the use of drugs to kill the cancer cells. It kills the fast growing cells and in some cases it also damages bone marrow.

Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell transplant replaces damaged cells in bone marrow with healthy plasma cells.

Order of Treatments: Different patients have been given different type of treatments based on type of areas affected. But the order of treatment remains the same. The initial treatment given is known as Primary Treatment, which includes the curing the cancer after the diagnosis. This treatment is also known as an Induction Treatment. the Second step is of Maintenance Treatment, which is done to keep cancer cells suppressed.

Survival chances of Multiple Myeloma patients

Statistics can be confusing because each Multiple Myeloma case varies from patient to patient.
Survival rates are measured from the first point of treatment, such as chemotherapy. In the past, patients often could not survive even beyond the first stage of treatment because when cancer cells grow fast they cause too much damage. Since 2000 the percent of patients living five years after diagnosis has been increasing considerably, for up to 50 percent of patients.

Lifestyle and diet tips for patients of Multiple Myeloma

The lifestyle advice for patients of Multiple Myeloma includes reducing or avoiding tobacco use and alcohol intake and exercising often. Patients should eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. During and after treatment severe weakness can be felt in bones and muscles which can covered by eating healthy and nutritious meals after every 2 to 3 hours. Inactive patients may start with short walks increasing the length or intensity daily until they can enjoy extended periods of movement and exercise time.

Summary

The cause of  Multiple Myeloma, an infectious disease, is still unknown. Researchers have shown that disease is not hereditary disease. It is very rare that two persons in same family become affected by Multiple Myeloma. Finding a cure for Multiple Myeloma has proven very difficult.

It takes considerable time for patients to recover completely. For survivors, statistics show that damage done by this disease cannot be reversed one hundred percent. People who are 40 years old or more have fair chances of being affected by Multiple Myeloma disease. Extended research needs to be done to find the exact root cause of this disease so that upcoming generations can be saved. Survival rates are low compared to other fatal diseases.

References:

https://www.medicinenet.com/multiple_myeloma/article.htm

https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/CRC/PDF/Public/8740.00.pdf

https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/multiple-myeloma

Maintenance Therapy and Continuous Therapy in Myeloma: What’s the Difference?

Maintenance Therapy and Continuous Therapy in Myeloma: What’s the Difference? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Nurse Practitioner, Beth Faiman from the Cleveland Clinic, explains in maintenance therapy versus continuous therapy in multiple myeloma, which can sometimes be confusing.

Beth Faiman is a nurse practitioner in the department of hematologic oncology at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Beth Faiman:

I’d like to define the difference between maintenance therapy and continuous therapy. When patients have a stem cell transplant, they have a pre-therapy, the transplant consolidation is the second step, and then they have a maintenance to maintain that remission. For some people that don’t have a transplant, you can just stay on continuous doses of a therapy that’s very well tolerated. So, maintenance and continuous can sometimes be confused, but it’s — maintenance is lesser doses of something that got you into remission and continuous is just kind of staying on that same dose of tolerated medication.

How Side Effects Can Be Managed in Myeloma

How Side Effects Can Be Managed in Myeloma from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Beth Faiman, a nurse practitioner specializing in multiple myeloma, discusses side effects in myeloma and shares what can be done to prevent or reduce these issues in patients.

Beth Faiman is a nurse practitioner in the department of hematologic oncology at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Beth Faiman:

In multiple myeloma, there are numerous side effects, but the most common side effects of treatment are oftentimes the lowering of blood count. So, for example, depending on which type of therapy you’re on, maybe it’s lenalidomide or carfilzomib or some others, you can get some lowering of blood count.

So, those blood counts need to be regularly monitored. Another side effect might be peripheral neuropathy. Now, that’s more common in drugs such as bortezomib or thalidomide.

And so, it’s important to look for that symptom and report if you have any numbness or tingling in your fingers or feet, or dizziness, or anything odd to your healthcare team. Because by adjusting the medication doses, then those patients can actually stay in treatment longer with better control.

Other things with the monoclonal antibodies, some of the newer drugs that are currently available will produce an increased chance of infusion reactions. Now, that’s only at the very beginning of the infusion. So, once patients have received that therapy,  they can feel comfortable to keep taking that with lesser chance of side effects.

And then, finally, many drugs with myeloma have an increased risk of blood clots. So, patients should stay active, keep well-hydrated, and know that they’re at an increased risk. Most providers will recommend a baby aspirin for all patients taking these drugs like lenalidomide, thalidomide, pomalidomide, and carfilzomib. And that’ll lessen their chance of blood clots.

The last thing I’d like to add in is an increased risk of infections. Myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells that are responsible to protect you from getting sick, and unfortunately, they don’t work. Many therapies will further weaken the immune system. So, getting a seasonal influenza vaccine, a pneumonia vaccine every five years, and making sure they take shingles prevention is a very effective way of keeping yourself healthy.

Lab Tests in Myeloma: Key Results to Monitor

Lab Tests in Myeloma: Key Results to Monitor from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Nurse practitioner, Beth Faiman, discusses laboratory tests for multiple myeloma, including which results should be monitored closely and how different labs may vary.

Beth Faiman is a nurse practitioner in the department of hematologic oncology at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Beth Faiman:

Laboratory results can be quite anxiety-provoking for some patients and others are pretty easygoing about it. One of the most important things I share with patients whether they come to see me every month, every three months, or sometimes we share care with referral providers is always take ownership of your own care.

You are your best advocate and it’s important to find out what kind of myeloma you have and what they myeloma specialist thinks is important in monitoring your labs. So, for example, there are kappa and lambda light chains, and everybody has a different form of myeloma. Find out the best way that they can monitor their myeloma. Also, key lab results like blood creatinine level, reflect kidney function, hemoglobin carries oxygen and that’s your anemia number. So, finding out those important key lab values and keeping track of them over time can help feel — patients feel empowered often times in their care.

But with that, I always have the caveat, take the results with a grain of salt because there are lab variations within one’s own institution or when you’re going outside of institutions if we partner with care. So, that can be about 20/25 percent lab error each month depending on the test result.

Lab values can fluctuate quite rapidly. So, if I draw a serum creatinine level in the morning, and it might be high indicating kidneys might not be functioning normally, I can encourage them to have some hydration or — and then recheck that lab value and it might go down. The same with the serum-free light chains and M-Spikes.

The lab variation within a single day can be very, very, very diverse. So, it’s important to say, hey gosh, it’s abnormal one day or one hour of the day, but then the next time it can be normal. Or normal for you a well, because there are normal values for one patient that’s abnormal for the other, and vice-versa.

Key Considerations When Choosing Myeloma Treatment: What’s Available?

 

Key Considerations When Choosing Myeloma Treatment: What’s Available? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Beth Faiman, a nurse practitioner specializing in multiple myeloma at the Cleveland Clinic, shares tips for making treatment decisions and discusses the evolution of myeloma therapy in recent years. Need help speaking up? Download the Office Visit Planner and bring it to your next appointment here.

Beth Faiman is a nurse practitioner in the department of hematologic oncology at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

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The Benefits of Seeking a Second Opinion in Myeloma

Find Your Voice Myeloma Resource Guide

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Transcript:

Beth Faiman:

There are so many treatment options, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for patients to at least seek an opinion once or twice with a myeloma specialist because treatment changes so rapidly. We have over 20 medications that are approved for the management of myeloma and so the patients need to figure out what’s important for them.

Oftentimes you think, father knows best or doctor knows best. And I hear from time to time that you’re the doctor, you should know what is best for me. But I say, “I understand what might be the best treatment for you in terms of response rate, but we have to balance quality and quantity of life. What are the things that you’re willing and your family’s willing to accept for treatment?”

Do you want to undergo a stem cell transplant which maybe takes you out of commission for a couple of months? Or take an oral therapy every day or an IV therapy intermittently? So, there are oftentimes more than one decision, and this is what we like to practice at my institution. It’s called shared decision making where you have a partnership between the patient and their caregiver, and the healthcare team and we work together to mutually decide what’s best for that patient.

So, sometimes just really trying to get that cure or eliminate the myeloma cell clone as best as possible might not be the right answer now, especially if you’re a single mom or a single dad or caring for a loved one. But maybe that might be a future goal. So, having that conversation is so important. And patients should feel empowered to be able to have that conversation with their healthcare team because if they don’t, then maybe they need to see a different doctor or specialist so they can feel comfortable with them.

I am so excited about all the new classes of drugs that are so — that are currently available. When I started managing myeloma in 1994 or 1995 there was only stem cell transplant and maybe melphalan or Cytoxan, and those drugs were not very effective in controlling the disease. I’m now able to mix and match treatments and give patients different opportunities to meet these milestones. You know, patients were so worried about not being here in two or three years, and now it’s 20 years later. So, forming those relationships and keeping them living healthy longer is so important.

We now have drugs available that can have the possibility of achieving what’s called minimal residual disease or MRD, where we’re eliminating in the bone marrow, the myeloma clone

That was unheard of five years ago even. So now we have the BiTE therapies and CAR T-Cell therapies, and some of the newer drug classes that will hopefully have a functional cure.

People ask me what a cure in myeloma is, and hopefully, we’ll have a real cure. But, living out your normal life span compared to people that don’t have myeloma, and really enjoying life as you do it. So, I always tell patients don’t forget about health maintenance and checking cholesterols, looking for secondary cancers, keep a primary care provider on hand because as a team, we can all work together, to have you live your best life as possible.

Diagnosed with Myeloma? Why to See a Specialist and What to Expect

 

Diagnosed with Myeloma? Why to See a Specialist and What to Expect from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Beth Faiman, a nurse practitioner specializing in multiple myeloma, provides insight into her relationships with patients and the importance of seeking a second opinion with a specialist, even for just a single consultation.

Beth Faiman is a nurse practitioner in the department of hematologic oncology at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Beth Faiman:

So, my role in treating patients with multiple myeloma is very variable. So, I am a member of a treatment team. I have doctors that I work with, as well as nurses, other nurse practitioners, and social workers.

Sometimes I’m the first face that patients will see when they come to the cancer center. And hopefully, I’ll be fortunate to follow them along with their treatment trajectory.

Some of the other things that I do for patients who have multiple myeloma  — I’m involved in the diagnosis and management of their care. I am responsible for obtaining and reviewing their laboratory results at each visit, and if they have a certain symptom that needs to be controlled, I am oftentimes the one that they call or reach out to for some answers.

I think it’s very important for patients to meet with a myeloma specialist at least once. I understand there are a lot of barriers from transportation to finances to just not feeling comfortable with going to an outside institution. But working at a major center which focuses on multiple myeloma for the last 20-plus years, I can really see the value in even just getting an opinion.

So, one of the things I try to encourage is for patients to come and meet with us once or twice because not only are we educating the community physician, but we’re also partnering in their care. So, if they’re getting an injection once or twice weekly, we can see them every couple months, review their laboratory values, and they can get care closer to home. And so, there’s that partnership that forms and then you’re not only educating the patient, but you’re oftentimes educating the community physician or provider that might only see one or two myeloma patients in a year.

So, when patients come to me all they know is that they’re in a cancer center. Oftentimes they have to go on whatever information they’ve been told. I see consultations independently at the Cleveland Clinic so sometimes they’ve been told by their outside physician or nurse practitioner that they might have a blood cancer. Sometimes they fall into a category of patients that have what’s called MGUS or monoclonal gammopathy, so these individuals might not even need treatment forever.

Others might have what’s called smoldering myeloma, which is a different second level, and those patients might need treatment within two to five years. But for those that have been told they have multiple myeloma, there’s a myriad of emotions, and oftentimes I like to take time, share with them first what I know about their case, get time to know them on a one-on-one basis. What they like, what they don’t like, what they do for a living, their hobbies. Because you’re building a relationship.

You might be with that patient for many, many years. So, taking the time to let them know what I know about their case, finding out about themselves, and then pooling it all together with what we need to do now, with this information is oftentimes a good way to start a relationship with the patient and their caregiver.

Evolving Approaches to Myeloma Treatment: Staying Up-to-Date

 

Evolving Approaches to Myeloma Treatment: How to Stay Up-to-Date from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Multiple myeloma research is fast-moving and showing promise. Dr. Peter Forsberg, a myeloma specialist, provides an overview of the changing treatment landscape and shares resources for keeping up with the latest news. Need help speaking up? Download the Office Visit Planner and bring it to your next appointment here.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Peter Forsberg:

I think research in multiple myeloma remains a really active area. It’s been a major evolution over the past 20 years. Myeloma’s been one of the real success stories of modern oncology in terms of how much research has translated into improved options for patients.

But, many new things continue to evolve. It can be challenging to feel like you’re abreast of what’s going on. I think there are great resources for patients. Organizations like the International Myeloma Foundation, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, or Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are good places for patients to start.

I also think that social media can be useful although those types of things can be a bit of a double-edged sword. I certainly find lots of things out via Twitter, and I think there’s a pretty active myeloma community in some of those areas, but you have to be a little bit careful about where you point your attention when you’re interacting with the internet. I think there can be lots of places where you might get less up to date or less thorough information and that can sometimes be concerning or challenging for patients So, I do think it is great that we have tools, but it is important to be thoughtful about how you approach them and trying to find good, reliable resources in that regard.

 I think there’s a lot of really exciting things on the horizon. That’s gonna include using tools that we have in better ways. I think we’re gonna be expanding our approaches to how we treat newly diagnosed patients. It looks like we’ll be starting to use four-drug regimens in patients with newly-diagnosed myeloma in the near future, hopefully with ever-improving results. We’re gonna be more cutting edge in terms of how we test and measure disease, using things like minimal-residual disease testing in different and expanded ways.

And then there’s a number of immunotherapeutic treatments especially that are looking very promising in relapsed myeloma.

That includes CAR T-Cell therapies, bispecific monoclonal antibodies, and antibody drug conjugates, all of them look like really promising approaches and really new things that hopefully in the not-distant future are gonna expand our toolbox for how we’re able to help maintain and improve life for patients with multiple myeloma.

What Does Remission Mean in Myeloma?

What Does Remission Mean in Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The concept of remission in multiple myeloma can be complex. Myeloma specialist, Dr. Peter Forsberg explains. Want to learn more? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Peter Forsberg:

I also think that one thing that can be a little challenging in multiple myeloma is the concept of remission. I think in multiple myeloma what we think of as remission may be a little bit different than in other diseases, and I know that can be confusing for patients. Remission may just mean an interval of myeloma control. It may still be a time where you’re on active therapy or where the active therapy that you’re receiving hasn’t changed too substantially, but where the myeloma is under control whether it’s still detectable or not. So, that name can be a little bit different than what we think of as remission in other types of cancer and that can be a little confusing.

Myeloma Patient Cafe® – Genetic Testing from A Myeloma Patient Perspective

Myeloma Patient Cafe® – Genetic Testing from A Myeloma Patient Perspective from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

PEN Board Member, Jack Aiello, leads a myeloma patient panel discussion on genetic testing.

See More From The Myeloma Patient Cafe®


Transcript:

Jack:

Thanks for joining us for this Patient Empowerment Network Myeloma Patient Café. I’m Jack Aiello. I’ve been living with myeloma since 1995, and the world has changed a lot since then, including the introduction of genetic testing. That’s gonna be our topic of discussion today. I personally have never had genetic testing because it wasn’t done back then, so I’m looking forward to learning from you all, our patient panel, who have been diagnosed more recently than I have.

We’ll talk exactly what genetic testing is about, why you might get genetic testing done, and more, but we won’t really go into the science of it. Instead, this is gonna be a conversation among patients and caregivers and serve off as a jumping point to pique your interest in genetic testing, and have a discussion with your doctor about it if you desire.

Before we dive in, I wanna meet our panel, and I’m gonna ask each of you to introduce yourself. Tell me when you were diagnosed and the treatments you’ve gone through, and I will start with Doug.

Doug:

I’m Doug Kenaley. I was diagnosed in 2015, and my initial induction treatment is a little different than most. It was really only – it turned out to be Velcade and dex, and it got me down to the level where I could have a stem cell transplant, so then, I had an auto stem cell transplant. And then, about five months after that, I joined the elotuzumab maintenance trial, so I’ve been on elotuzumab and Revlimid since that point.

Jack:

Okay. Peggy, tell us about yourself.

Peggy Lindley:

My name is Peggy Lindley, and I was diagnosed with this lovely disease on Valentine’s Day of 2019, and it was just from my regular doctor. I go every year for my bloodwork, and he found something with me, and he found it only – he was aware of it because his mother was diagnosed a couple of years before that, so he’s the one that got me there because I would have never thought that. He asked me, “Do you have any bone pain or anything?” I said, “Well, just my back,” and that was it.

Anyways, he told me what I had. Then, I had a bone marrow biopsy, and that showed it. So, I went through five rounds of the Revlimid, dex, and Velcade, and then, in July of last year, I had my stem cell transplant, and I got my stem cells back on July 12th, and then, in November of last year, I started with the maintenance therapy, which is elotuzumab with Revlimid, so I do that every 28 days now. It was a little bit sooner, and you start one week – it was a progression, so now, I go once every 28 days.

Jack:

Got it. Nancy, tell us about yourself.

Nancy:

My name is Nancy Raimondi, and I was initially diagnosed in 2006 with smoldering multiple myeloma, and I was followed over the next nine years – I just continued to smolder until 2015. I developed a plasma cytoma, and that got biopsied, and it was 60 percent myeloma cells, so I needed treatment, so I started treatment July of 2015, I was diagnosed as high risk, so I was put in a clinical trial that included carfilzomib.

I had five rounds of chemo, did tandem stem cell transplants, and finished everything about seven and a half months later. Went in maintenance therapy the first year, was when Ninlaro was just released, so I was on Ninlaro, Revlimid, and dex for a year, and then, that got changed to daratumumab, Revlimid, and dex, and I was on that for another year. And then, in December 2017, I was MRD-negative, and I’ve not been on any treatment for myeloma since then.

Jack:

We’ll talk more about MRD-negative because that’s important to this discussion. George, how about yourself?

George:

My name is George Burrell. I was diagnosed in April of 2011. Ironically, the day that I was diagnosed was Easter Sunday and my wife and I’s anniversary. The – doctor told us we had multiple myeloma, and that we needed to get the numbers down so that he could put me in a stem cell transplant. I’ve had two of those, and I’m currently on a three-stage regimen of Cytoxan, dexamethasone, and Kyprolis, and it seems to be working quite well. My numbers are down, and have been holding pretty steady for about four or five months now, so we’re really happy.

Jack:

I thought it was interesting, Peggy, how George introduced the fact that “we” were diagnosed with myeloma, so maybe you can talk about what that experience was like for you.

Peg Burrell:

Well, definitely, it is a journey of “we,” and it was very frightening. I’d only heard the word “multiple myeloma” one time, with a colleague from work whose father was much older, who’d had multiple myeloma. And, George’s symptom was low iron anemia, and he’d been sent to an oncologist for iron infusions, but he never presented any other symptoms.

The doctor would say, “How are you?”, and he would say, “I’m fine,” and a year later, he was rushed to the emergency room with bleeding ulcers, and that’s when the oncologist just happened to be in the ER, and they thought George was having a heart attack, his blood count was so low, so they did a CT scan, and his oncologist came in and said, “This is multiple myeloma, I’m pretty sure.”

So, it was devastating, very frightening, but once we had a game plan – and, the one thing that George told me – he says, “Stop treating me like I’m dead,” and I was running over curbs taking him to appointments, and I was just a wreck. He was like, “You’re gonna kill me.” But, it is quite a journey, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to be there with him.

Jack:

Good. Since this Patient Café is to focus on genetic testing, let’s first get agreement what genetic testing is, which is basically looking at potential mutations in your myeloma cells. So, with that in mind, other than me, who’s never had genetic testing, has every patient here had genetic testing?

Doug:

Yup.

Peggy Lindley:

I have.

Jack:

Probably, right? Because you begin maybe with a FISH and cytogenetics testing. Doug, when you had that, did that yield anything interesting for you?

Doug:

Mine was a bit interesting because I went to a local oncologist, even though I was here in Houston, who’s close to me, and he had done a stint at MD Anderson. And so, he presented it to me when I was diagnosed – “You should have genetic testing right away.” So, I looked into it and thought it was a good idea, even though four years ago, even, there wasn’t a whole lot more – you have a test, but then what? That kind of thing.

This emphasizes why a lot of times, you wanna go to a specialty place like MD Anderson, because they did the bone marrow biopsy, and the tech put it in the wrong solution, and it destroyed the sample. But they were gonna hold off my induction. So, the doctor was pretty mad, but my first attempt was a failure. But then, he said, “Well, ultimately, you’ll probably go for a stem cell transplant. We’re gonna hook you up with MD Anderson right away, even during your induction.”

And, the first thing they do here is genetic testing. So, at that point, I got a genetic test – successful genetic test – and it was interesting because the results came in, I got the labs, and I’ve done science – I’m a scientist, I’m a geologist – but it’s just a lot of alphabets, and it’s very complicated. They’re worse in the summaries. It said, “No deletions found, no translocations found,” things like that, but you really couldn’t understand the rest of what was in there, and you kind of suspect there was something hidden in there.

But I sat down with the doctor here, and he went over it. It said basically, I was a standard-risk patient, and my FISH and cytogenetics showed that I had tetrasomies – so, four versions of the genes instead of the normal two. And, he says, “So, if you wanna look at it, that’s kind of a good news thing because we have drugs that target certain things, you have lots of those things to target – multiple copies of those things,” so that kind of relaxed me a little bit. I think it actually impacted my standard of care a little bit, and certainly, my quality of life, because I think the doctors relaxed a little bit too. They wanna get ahead of it if you’re high-risk.

Jack:

So, Peggy, when Doug mentions he got a report from FISH and cytogenetics, which is essentially gobbledygook –

Peggy Lindley:

It is.

Jack:

What did you do when you got that?

Peggy Lindley:

They told me right off the bat that I had myeloma, and that I had an aggressive form. So, I went through the rounds, and I responded very well to induction therapy.

Jack:

And, by “aggressive form” – how did they find that?

Peggy Lindley:

They just said it was aggressive. They didn’t really – they said the FISH test – it was still Greek to me. So, now, two years later, I’m understanding it more and more, but what it was was the translocation of the 4-14. So, I find that, and I ask doctors about that, and they say, “Yes, it is aggressive, it’s on the aggressive form, but it’s still on the intermediate side.” So, I’m not as concerned, but at least the doctors know, and they’re aware.

Jack:

And, “4-14” means that chromosome 4 and chromosome 14 pieces have been swapped places?

Peggy Lindley:

I don’t really understand that yet, but I’m learning. That’s good, very good. See? I’ve learned something more.

Jack:

There you go. And, Nancy, you’ve been at this for a little while, so you probably understand a little bit more about genetic testing. What’s the impact been on you?

Nancy:

Well, I’m getting there, but it is – it’s a lot of alphabet soup. It’s hard to retain. But, yeah, I had genetic testing done right away once the myeloma became active, and I also had aggressive highrisk. I had abnormal female karyotype, monosomy 13, the P-53, and a translocation – but I forget which one. And, what was interesting is in my initial appointment with my oncologist, he thought I was low-risk and talked about treatment, but when all the final results came back, turned out I was high-risk, which meant completely different treatment. So, that was a shocker.

Jack:

So, expand on that a bit. How did that high risk change your treatment?

Nancy:

He recommended a clinical trial instead of what they were gonna put me in, which included being treated with carfilzomib, which, at the time – this was 2015 – carfilzomib was being used mostly for people who had relapsed, and they were doing a clinical trial to see about treating patients up front with it that are high-risk. Why wait until they relapse? So, I had that in addition to the PACE cocktail with thalidomide, something else – there were seven different chemos.

Jack:

So, that was important that that high risk for you helped determine a change for the treatment, but you got into that clinical trial, and that was an effective trial, by the way, so that’s good.

Nancy:

Yes. It was definitely effective for me.

Jack:

Good. And, George, when you did – or, you did genetic testing, I presume, and did it show anything?

George:

Yes. The first time we did it was to run tests to get ready for the first stem cell transplant, and at that time, I didn’t understand the importance of all that. The oncologist that I was working with at the time did explain as much as he could, and in layman’s terms as best he could, but it still mostly went over my head. I was more thinking about the actual transplant itself than anything else. But, when I came to MD Anderson and got ready for – I was getting ready to try one of their clinical trials, they ran some more tests then, just to see how things had progressed through that number of years, and so, I’ve actually had partially two of them.

Jack:

So, I was gonna ask – have any of you had subsequent genetic testing where results have changed after your treatment for myeloma? You’re nodding your head, Nancy.

Nancy:

Yeah. Over a year ago now, I had my genetics repeated, and all the abnormal stuff went away, so that was pretty exciting, because I was now MRD-negative, so that was very reassuring. And, I actually just had another bone marrow about 10 days ago now, so I’m still waiting for those results to see what’s happened.

Jack:

And, are they gonna test that bone marrow for genetics as well?

Nancy:

Yes.

Jack:

Because you might find there are changes. You might find there’s a translocation where there wasn’t one before, you might find there’s a deletion where there wasn’t one before, because this myeloma is a fairly tricky disease, and we talk about the myeloma clone as made up of a percentage of different mutations, some of which get cured by treatment, and others of which expand because they were not affected by the treatment. It’s pretty interesting, in a lousy sort of way. Anything else, Doug, that you thought was interesting that came out of your genetic testing?

Doug:

It looked pretty standard and fairly boring to people who liked exciting genetic testing. I did have two, so I had one – so, my original doctor says, “We like to get patients early to get an original profile.” That’s kind of like your baseline. And, I also had one right before my stem cell transplant because they like to check to see if anything happened, but the doctor says the chemo messes with myeloma – obviously, that’s why you have chemo – and he says, “You’ll probably see some differences, but that’s why we like an original one, too.”

So, I compared the two, and really, there were no extra risks – high risks or anything – that appeared. The only thing that popped up was instead of tetrasomies, I had trisomies also, but that was pretty much it. So, it didn’t really change anything in terms of treatment in terms of work that was being planned.

Jack:

And, tetra- and trisomies are basically quadruple and triple duplications of your chromosome. So, I’m wondering, both Peg and George, have you had a second MRD testing, and why did you end up doing that?

George:

I don’t know that we’ve had a second one. Have we?

Peg Burrell:

Yes.

George:

We have?

Jack:

Oh, you had MRD testing?

Peg Burrell:

Yes, I’m pretty sure we had. He was in a clinical trial in 2018 at MD Anderson, and I’m sure they did it then. They also did some very unusual – not normal, but they were genetic tests that they ran as part of the – at the beginning of this study so they could get a baseline, or find out what other things might be going on.

Jack:

And, he did this MRD trial testing to determine if he had a significant number of cells with this BCMA antigen in order to qualify for this CAR-T trial?

George:

Probably.

Peg Burrell:

In the beginning, yes. That was in 2012. And then, he had his – he was in a second trial that was called Amgen 224. That’s all we know. It’s a mystery. And, it worked for him for about a year. It brought his cancer numbers back down, and there was a lot of genetic testing for that particular trial.

Jack:

So, I think just about any of these new trials that are coming onboard these days incorporate MRD testing. As we all heard earlier and we know, MRD is a really good prognosticating factor in terms of if a patient becomes MRD-negative, they show that they have better progression-free survival and overall survival. It’s not really used to change or determine treatment, but those trials are going on as well, so I think that’s really important.

And, there’s so many other avenues – again, back to this genetic testing, I always wonder, well, suppose I’m MRD-negative, but I’m high-risk, versus I’m MRD-positive but I’m standard-risk. Which is better? I don’t know. I don’t think the community knows, and I think it may be individualized as well. What do you all think about that? Any feelings?

George:

For me, I think that’s probably what is gonna be revealed to us as we move forward with this because the genetic testing idea is fairly new, at least to the patient. I’m sure that the doctors could pull each and every one of our files and show us all sorts of information that they just haven’t shared with us because of – it can be kind of complicated and hard to understand. Sometimes, I think that they try not to give us too much information because then, we have a tendency to think we can get on the computer and try to diagnose ourselves or find something.

Jack:

Little Rock, Arkansas was kind of the pioneer in what’s called gene expression profiling. And, we all have 25,000 genes, let’s say, and Arkansas kind of developed a test which showed that there were about 70 genes that were very distinctive in resulting in high-risk myeloma, except they were distinctive across, say, 50 percent of patients, but not the other 50 percent of patients. And then, they tried to get it down to even 15 or 25 genes, let’s say, and therefore, it was less accurate.

So, I think you’re right, George. I think there’s still a lot of work that’s gonna be done in this area to make it something that really can be useful in terms of having the best treatment for patients. There’s an interesting trial going on right now that’s looking at treating myeloma patients according to a mutation. If we have a certain mutation and we have a drug to treat that mutation – it could be for a different cancer – then that patient will be given a baseline of treatment plus that drug to try to increase the amount of precision therapy that’s given for given patients.

So, this whole area of genetic testing, as I see it, is really fascinating, complex, difficult to understand at the patient level, but can mean a lot for us as we go forward. What do you think? Peggy, I think you’re the most newly diagnosed patient here. What does all this mean for you?

Peggy Lindley:

I think his analogy of the alphabet soup is exactly right because when I looked at mine, I was like, “Those are words? Yeah, no.” But, I tried not to worry about it because I figured I was going to the best when I came to MD Anderson, so I really didn’t worry about it too much because I figured it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be, and I wanna – the quality of life is what I’m looking for.

Jack:

Well, I think you’re really correct there. The fact that you’re going to MD Anderson, the fact that we are getting second opinions from myeloma specialists who have a much better shot at understanding this stuff than we do is really key to long-term treatment success for us. There are a lot of drugs out there. In fact, I’ll often tell patients when I was diagnosed in ’95, there weren’t many treatment options. Today, the good news is there are lots of treatment options, but the bad news is there are lots of treatment options. You really don’t know what’s best for you, and that’s why it’s so important to have a myeloma specialist on your side.

George:

Well, with that, the idea of being able to target certain things within myeloma is gonna be a big step forward, I think, because it’ll help eliminate some of the things – the trials that we might try, or have to make a decision – “Do we try this or not?” We’ll be able to say, “This didn’t work, so this will – let’s try this.”

Jack:

Yeah. There’s a drug called venetoclax, which has been shown to be effective in myeloma patients with a certain mutation – 11-14 – and it’s in trials now to hopefully, one day, get approved for that class of patients.

Doug:

One of the things I’d probably add to the discussion is there’s a lot of talk about patient advocacy, and if you follow any of the myeloma discussions, it is almost all genetics now. That’s kind of where cancer research has gone, even in other cancers. But, one of the things that I see genetic testing is doing is my ability to help the doctor help me.

So, if it was more difficult to get genetic testing – maybe not local to a major facility or something – I would still encourage it because that’s helping the doctor see your specific disease, and maybe helping them modify what you have as a standard treatment in terms of what you need instead of the standard treatment. Plus, you have it in the bank then. You have your test, and if something is discovered a year from now, that this particular drug works with this particular genetic profile, you can go back, and look, and say, “Do I have that? Is that something I should consider?”

Jack:

Good point. Nancy, how important do you think it is for patients to 1) Insist that they get some type of genetic testing, and 2) to try to understand what’s going on?

Nancy:

Well, I think it’s extremely important. For me, it was a major change in treatment. Without genetic testing, I doubt I would be MRD-negative right now because my treatment path went along a completely different way. So, I think it’s extremely important. What was the second part of your question?

Jack:

How important it is for the patient to understand it.

Nancy:

I think everybody has a different level of what they can understand, and that it’s important for your oncologist to give you that information in language that you can understand, and to the level that you want. A lot of that’s gonna depend on your background, your education, what makes sense to you. I came from a medical background, so I wanted a little more knowledge, and my doctor was great in giving that to me.

Jack:

Patients need to ask questions.

Nancy:

Yes, they definitely need to ask questions, and then, the physician needs to communicate in a way that the patient’s gonna understand because it is a lot of gobbledygook, and I often – I have a hard time understanding it with having a medical background, and I often wonder how you make sense of this without having a background. It’s difficult.

Jack:

This has been a good discussion, and I think we’ll wrap it up. Peg, maybe I’ll start with you. Folks listening to this discussion – what do you think they should take away from it?

Peg Burrell:

Well, definitely, talk your physician, learn as much as you can. Support group for us has been very beneficial and helpful. Our support group brings in different people in the medical profession and has explained a lot of the things and given us knowledge we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And then, working with – sometimes, insurance may not wanna pay for certain tests. I’ve found that in working with MD Anderson, their financial people – we had some tests that were gonna be – I think they said “non-concerted.” I’d not heard that before. It basically meant they were questioning the test and whether or not it was necessary. So, MD Anderson was very helpful with that.

Jack:

George, can you add on to what your better half says?

George:

For me, it’s been working closely with Dr. Patel and her team, both when I was part of the clinical trial and even now, with the three-track regimen that they have me on. Again, ask questions, try to understand as much as you can, and I, too, support the idea of working with a support group and sharing information with each other because you find out so much more of what someone else heard through their doctor and their team because we all do have different doctors.

Jack:

Nancy?

Nancy:

I think it’s real important for people to go to a center of excellence, at least for a second opinion, if not for your treatment. They are the cutting-edge people that are gonna be able to treat you the best, and you can just google “center of excellence, multiple myeloma,” and you’ll get a list of all the centers all across the United States. I think it’s made a huge difference. I was treated at UAMS in Little Rock, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was fortunate to be able to go there.

Jack:

Good. Peggy?

Peggy Lindley:

I think as patients, we all need to be as informed as you can, and work with your doctor, and get confidence in your doctor. If that doctor doesn’t do it for you, find another one, but be confident in your doctor that they’re gonna do what’s right for you, but you have to be educated as well.

Jack:

I heartily agree. Doug?

Doug:

I’d stress the same as everyone else, and also recommend definitely having genetic testing. One of the things that are kind of an intangible benefit is even your own stress level. You would think that, for instance, if you’re tested and you find out you’re not high-risk, you’re standard-risk, that’d be the end of it, but it turns out, for instance, even with me, my doctors will actually modify – have modified my treatments, even my maintenance treatments, because I’m not high-risk and I have very stable myeloma.

So, they’ll say, “Well, we’re going to de-escalate. We’re gonna take you off all these drugs. You don’t need all of them, so we don’t wanna over-treat, either.” Nobody wants to be over-treated with all the symptoms and things like that. When they initially said that, I was like, “Wait a minute, I’d rather just start adding drugs. Let’s just kill this thing.” But, that’s right, and I think the fact that I can go back to genetic testing and look at what he was saying about stability over a period of years and things like that just gives me more of a comfort level that that’s probably the right answer, and I don’t need to be taking all these drugs if they’re not gonna benefit me in the long term, or I could switch drugs if I need to.

Jack:

So, I guess I’d summarize it by thanking you all. You’re all terrific examples of being your own best patient advocate. If we aren’t advocating for ourselves, who else should? It’s really up to us, and the good news is there are so many resources for good information out there.


Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Netowrk (PEN) are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Notable News September 2019

September wraps up a big month of cancer awareness. It is the awareness month for childhood cancer, gynecologic cancer, leukemia and lymphoma, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer. Awareness days bring people together to provide educational and fundraising opportunities, and they can help shine a brighter light on the need for funding and research. If you ordered anything from Amazon recently, you may have noticed just how impactful awareness months can be. During the month of September Amazon partnered with the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) and helped raise awareness by using special packaging designed with the childhood cancer gold ribbon symbol. That kind of exposure can lead to increased funding and support from those who might not otherwise be aware that every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer, and it remains the deadliest disease for children in the United States. Learn more at acco.org.
Like leukemia and lymphoma, multiple myeloma is a blood cancer, and while its awareness month is in March, this month there is some promising news for treating the incurable cancer, says biospace.com. The FDA approved the drug Darzalex to be used in combination with other medications for patients newly diagnosed and eligible for autologous stem cell transplant. Studies showed that adding Darzalex to the other medications reduced disease progression or death by 53 percent. More information about the uses of Darzalex can be found here.
Something else to be aware of this month is the potential danger of a popular heartburn medication, reports webmd.com. Ranitidine, known as Zantac, and several generic versions, may pose a cancer risk. The FDA found a cancer causing substance in the drug, and now at least one manufacturer has recalled the drug, and another one has stopped distributing it. It is not yet known why lab testing discovered a carcinogen in the drug, but if you take Zantac, or one of the generic versions, you should probably talk to your doctor, and read more about the findings here.
Of course, it would be ideal if we didn’t have to be aware of cancer at all anymore, and that just may be the case in the future, thanks to a “magic” treatment, says medicalxpress.com. Researchers, using a super computer, have found a molecule that could fix any cancer-related issues in the body. The molecule is promising because, unlike other immunotherapies, it could be sold in pill form, could reach deeper into tissues, and would leave the body faster, reducing negative side effects. Also, it could be used to fight several kinds of cancers including melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, and brain cancer. The magic pill still has further development, but the research is moving from the lab to animal testing, so fingers crossed that before long this magic molecule leads to a cure. You can find out more here.
September also hosts Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day, so mark your calendar for next year, and make sure you don’t miss any other important awareness dates. They can be found on the Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) Cancer Awareness Calendar, here.

Multiple Myeloma

This podcast was originally published by City of Hope Radio here.

Gargi Upadhyaya, MD, FACP – Speaker Bio
  • Topic Info: Myeloma is the second most common type of blood cancer, accounting for around one percent of blood cancer cases. It develops in plasma cells, white blood cells that grow in bone marrow. Myeloma most often affects the aged — most cases are diagnosed in people age 65 and older. Although myeloma grows within bone, it is not considered bone cancer.

    Listen as Gargi Upadhyaya, MD discusses multiple myeloma and the treatment options at City of Hope.

Financial Assistance: Filling in the gaps

This blog was originally published on Bone Marrow & Cancer Foundation here.

Lifeline Fund

The Lifeline Fund provides support to patients who often lack the financial resources necessary to afford the often overlooked living and ancillary expenses that can present considerable financial obstacles—or prohibit the transplant altogether. Funding from the Bone Marrow & Cancer Foundation’s Lifeline Fund helps to cover the myriad costs associated with transplants, such as donor searches, compatibility testing, bone marrow harvesting, medications, home and childcare services, medical equipment, transportation, cord blood banking, housing, and other expenses associated with the transplant. Health insurance often does not cover these vital support services, and many patients cannot afford them on their own.

Open Homes Medical Stays

Our partnership with Airbnb’s Open Homes Medical Stays program provides free temporary accommodations to patients diagnosed with any form of cancer or undergoing a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, as well as housing for their caregivers, family members, and donors.

One-to-One Funds

A One-to-One Fund is a personal fund created for a specific patient. It is a simple and effective way for a patient’s family, friends, and community to raise money on a patient’s behalf with all money raised going directly to their benefit. All donations are tax-deductible. The Bone Marrow & Cancer Foundation administers and maintains the fund, and can offer support with fundraising ideas.

Scholarship Grants

Scholarship Grants help make educational aspirations a reality for bone marrow, stem cell and cord blood transplant survivors. Transplants affect all aspects of life and often prohibit the pursuit of educational opportunities. To address this, the Bone Marrow & Cancer Foundation offers survivors support towards an academic future so their hopes and dreams remain intact. Scholarship Grants support students of all ages as they pursue their educational goals.

Get The Best Myeloma Care NOW: A Physician’s View

Get The Best Myeloma Care NOW: A Physician’s View from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Advocating for yourself is critical when diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Dr. Peter Forsberg details the value of collaborating with your healthcare team on treatment decisions.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

Overwhelmed By a Myeloma Diagnosis? The Key Steps to Take

Should You Consider a Second Opinion? Advice from a Myeloma Advocate 

Find Your Voice Myeloma Resource Guide

Transcript:

Patient education and self-advocacy I think are critical in multiple myeloma. Myeloma is a complicated disease. Getting your head around it can be challenging. Beyond that we have more and more treatments. Treatments are fairly complex. Our goals can be pretty different patient to patient. So really, patient education can be a key to understanding that and removing layers of complexity from something that can be a little challenging to get into.

I think self-advocacy is also really important in that, sometimes you can feel swept up into a wave of what the next treatments are gonna be, what the next steps are. So, making sure you’re taking time to voice your opinions or concerns for yourself, to make sure that you’re not leaving stones unturned in terms of what your best options are, what the best next steps are, what treatments or testing might be available.

I think myeloma, maybe more so than even some other diseases because it’s such a unique type of cancer, one where patients are often dealing with it for many years… Making sure that there’s a good level of education that evolves over time can help make sure that the patients get the best out of their treatments; to make sure that they’re able to have the most fulfilling experience dealing with their cancer and with their cancer team, and making sure that they’re advocating to get all options available to them in the mix potentially.

I think patients are often very thoughtful about knowing that providers are busy and that clinic can be kind of fast-paced, but I want to make sure that they know that the last thing that they’re ever doing is bothering me or other members of my team when they ask questions. I think one of the keys to making sure that everybody is comfortable with the steps we’re taking with their myeloma is to recognize that it’s a team. And the patients and myself and other members of my team, you know I think that the goal is for all of us to be on the same page and to understand what we’re working towards.

So, I think that my philosophy about how best to take care of patients tis to try to make it as collaborative as possible. To make sure people understand what we’re doing and why. And to be all on the same page I think you have to feel comfortable to take a moment to say, “Why are we doing this?” or to voice concerns about what’s going on or what the next steps might be.

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