Multiple Myeloma is a rare disease which is difficult to both prevent and treat. What’s more, the causes are still unknown. There are, however, new therapies that have greatly increased life expectancy.
What is Multiple Myeloma
It is a tumor found in bone marrow, which affects men more commonly than women and is most often diagnosed after age 60. It is considered a rare disease and is caused by DNA damage to certain plasma cells, cells that are mostly found in bone marrow and make antibodies to fight infections. In rare cases, plasma cells grow out of control resulting in this type of cancer.
The abnormal growth of these cells can affect other types of blood cells too, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, creating serious problems by weakening the immune system, causing anemia or problems with blood coagulation.
Furthermore, myeloma cells produce a substance that interferes with osteoclasts, cells that break down old bone. Consequently, patients have a greater risk of bone fractures.
Risk factors and diffusion of disease
The causes of multiple myeloma are still unclear. Recent studies have shown the presence of abnormalities in chromosome structures and in some specific genes in patients affected by the disease.
Only one piece of statistical data is certain – age is the main risk factor. More than two-thirds of people diagnosed with multiple myeloma are over 65 and only 1% are under 40.
Radiation exposure and a family history of the disease may be considered other risk factors, but they currently lack experimental evidence and, in any case, would only pertain to a small number of cases.
In Italy, in 2016 it was estimated that there were just over 2,700 new cases of multiple myeloma in woman and approximately 3,000 in men.
The problem with prevention
Given that there are no real known risk factors, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to define specific prevention strategies in the case of multiple myeloma. As in the prevention of any disease, especially cancer, general “good health practices” are suggested, such as maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding substances that increase the risk of cancer, etc.
Life expectancy is on the rise
Life expectancy in patients affected with multiple myeloma has increased from 2 to 7 years. Franco Mandelli, an internationally renowned hematologist and President of the ‘Italian National Association against Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma’ (Ail) explains. “There are many therapeutic opportunities available. Thus, we are able to choose the most suitable treatment for each and every patient and this enables us to improve his or her quality of life. Today, there is almost always hope for anyone suffering from a disease”.
Mario Boccadoro, Director of Hematology in the Oncology Division at the University of Torino, specifically speaks about triplet combination therapies. “A significant advantage has been obtained from drugs that have new mechanisms of action, including immunomodulatory agents, proteasome inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies, which have improved the effectiveness of therapies and have reduced toxicity”. The new tendency is to combine these new drugs, hence triplet combination therapies, as their combined use has increased their effectiveness.
The arrival of new medications
The arrival of new medications in the next few years are expected to increase life expectancy even more, but the problem is making it available on the market. For this reason, the Italian Society of Hematology began working together with the Italian Association of Cancer Registries to establish, in detail, the number of patients affected by primary hematological disorders that are malignant. Fabrizio Pane, president of the Italian Society of Hematology and director of the Department of Hematology and Cell Transplantation at the University of Naples Federico II, explains that, “…the results represent a very important epidemiological instrument for the Italian Medicines Agency and for the pharmaceutical industry, that is needed to place new drugs on the market and to make new therapeutic strategies available”.
Indeed, the path has been paved and continues to make advancements so that multiple myeloma patients can have a longer and more gratifying life.
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