March is Myeloma Awareness Month. At Roswell Park we’re working year-round to uncover new ways of understanding this disease in order to develop new treatment methods and improve long-term survival rates for patients.
Myeloma is the second most common blood cancer, with an estimated 22,350 new cases in the U.S. in 2013. However, the underlying mechanisms of myeloma, especially those that cause it to become resistant to standard treatments, are still not greatly understood.
One of the most challenging aspects of the disease, and the reason why the average survival rate is just 7 to 8 years, is that myeloma cells frequently become resistant to the drugs that are available currently. These treatments often will work initially, but after a few years, the cancer will return and will be even harder to treat with conventional methods.
Sometimes patients will even become resistant to a drug that is different, but in the same class as a previous treatment. Therefore, it’s crucial that we develop not only novel drugs, but new classes of drugs that are better at wiping out myeloma cells.
At Roswell Park, our research team is working to better understand why myeloma becomes resistant to treatment. By discovering how these cells learn how to survive, we can use that information to develop new, more effective drugs that undermine that resistance.
For example, we know that the bone marrow environment fosters the growth of myeloma cells, and that the presence of these cells is also associated with a weakened immune system. We’re currently researching ways to disrupt that myeloma-friendly environment, making the cancer more receptive to treatment.
Over the past ten years, we’ve made great strides in finding new methods of treating myeloma, and we expect those important advances to continue. Events like Myeloma Awareness Month are critical to helping the public understand this tough disease and why this kind of research is so important.
Do you have questions about myeloma? Please join me for a Q&A session on CancerConnect on March 26 and 27 to learn more.