Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Doctor's Appointment | Treatment options for multiple myeloma

Published:Wednesday | April 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dr Sara Lawrence (left), host of Doctor's Appointment, speaks with Dr Monica Taylor, founder of the Multiple Myeloma Support Group and herself a Multiple Myeloma survivor alongside her husband, Geoffrey Taylor.
Dr. Matthew James Streetly, consultant haematologist from London.

One of the rarest cancers in the world today is multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects plasma cells in the bone marrow. Yet, the American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States alone, more than 31,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year, and some 12,770 people are expected to die from multiple myeloma in 2018. So, though rare, the number of people affected is rising scarily.

For your second appointment, we had the privilege of hearing from Dr Matthew James Streetly, a consultant haematologist from London, as he discussed multiple myeloma at a symposium in February.

Hosted by the Jamaica Multiple Myeloma Support Group, Dr Streetly explained the nature of this disease and how it affects people, under the theme, 'New development in myeloma diagnosis and treatment'.

He explained that multiple myeloma is a disease of the plasma cells that live in the bone marrow, where plasma overgrow and produce too much of one type of antibody - substances which help us fight against infections. These conditions cause a person to feel lethargic, become anaemic or develop renal or kidney failure from the proteins blocking the kidney.

Yet, he notes that one of the most common symptoms is pain in the bones because the plasma cells grow, put pressure on and cause either extreme fragility or destruction of bones. This can lead to more serious complications such as fractures in the bones or paralysis, owing to the growth of a tumour which presses on to the spinal cord.




The cause of multiple myeloma is unbeknownst to doctors, but they have noted that men are affected more than women, and that persons over 65 are at a higher risk, but people of Negroid ethnic origin are more likely to develop the disease five-six years earlier than Caucasians.

So, to get a first-hand account from someone who is living with this rare cancer, we spoke with Dr Monica Taylor, founder and chairperson of the Jamaica Multiple Myeloma Support Group.

Having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in late 2011 following the discovery of high levels of protein in the marrow, Dr Taylor went to Tampa, Florida, in the United States to do a stem cell transplant, which enabled her to achieve remission for four years. But then the cancer came back. Jamaica only offered the more standard and yet expensive treatment options. At this point, Dr Taylor is being treated locally, cautiously monitoring her numbers and staying optimistic about her future.




Dr Streetly explained that treatment options are similar to that of any other cancer. Mainly reliant on chemotherapy, doctors screen patients, and based on the diagnosis, decide whether or not a patient qualifies for a stem cell transplant or autologous stem cell transplant. This type of transplant involves the collection of stem cells from the bone marrow, then subsequent purification and reinfusion. He noted that those who do a stem cell transplant are better able to control the disease.

In Jamaica, with the aid of the Multiple Myeloma Foundation, there has been a support group formed to give persons living with the disease and their families an avenue through which to get help.

Established in 2012, the group now sees 10 to 28 people gathering together once a month to watch videos, gain and learn more information from the foundation, as well as share experiences and sometimes host symposiums about the disease.

Both Drs Streetly and Taylor encourage all who may be living with the disease to seek medical attention and advice, as well as to be aware of treatment options and get acquainted with the support group.

"Don't give up. You are not alone. Reach out to others and talk to the support group. Be strong and of good courage," said Geoffrey Taylor, husband and main fierce supporter of Dr Taylor. Thus stressing the importance of family support, in anyone experiencing serious health issues.

Join us next week Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on TVJ when we look at one of the most common genetic as well as lifestyle choice diseases in the world, diabetes.

- Doctor's Appointment is a family and health-oriented television programme that is produced by Maverick Communications Limited.