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New treatments improving survival and quality of life for multiple myeloma patients

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Siobhan Glavey

Consultant Haematologist, Beaumont Hospital

Multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer in Ireland and is diagnosed in approximately 250 patients per year in this country. The disease can be detected incidentally when an abnormal protein is found in the blood or urine, or the patient can experience symptoms, which raise the alarm that something is wrong.

Worldwide in 2020, patients with multiple myeloma are benefitting from the many new treatments that have become available for this disease over the last 15 years. This is translating into a better quality of life on treatment and longer survival for patients in Ireland.

Earlier detection, due to greater awareness of the disease and more sensitive tests, has also led to improvements for patients. However, this cancer typically follows a remitting and relapsing course, which means that patients need close monitoring and new treatments to be available to them when the disease re-emerges in their blood or bone marrow.

Aiming to personalise approach to treatment

Predicting when the disease might re-emerge and what treatment is best suited to a particular patient is one of the biggest challenges we face in treating this disease.

Along with new treatments, advanced testing techniques have also been developed worldwide in recent years with the aim of delivering a more personalised approach to treating this disease in individual patients.

One such test is “minimal residual disease” (MRD), which has emerged from several international clinical studies as an important predictor of remission times and survival in multiple myeloma. This test may also help doctors to decide which patients might benefit from certain types of treatment, particularly when combined with genetic tests of cancer cells.

At Beaumont Hospital and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), in collaboration with several hospitals throughout Ireland, via the Blood Cancer Network Ireland and Cancer Trials Ireland, we are carrying out a research study looking at combination of MRD and genetic tests to try to identify how patients will respond to treatment, and learn more about predicting prognosis.

We hope that, in future, this will lead to a more personalised approach to the treatment of this disease for Irish patients.

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