The Surprising Truth About Multiple Myeloma: Racial Disparities and Treatment Options

Managing Multiple Myeloma Examining the Impact of Disparities on Treatment Outcomes

Myeloma Disparities Who Gets Hurt?


Over the past 2 decades, treatment options for multiple myeloma have increased dramatically, bringing with them a surge in survival rates. While there’s still no cure for this blood cancer, more than 90% of those who have it respond to treatment. Many now live for 10 years or longer with the disease. So far, so good, right? Well, hold on to your white blood cells because there’s a catch!

The Odds Are Not Always in Your Favor

Despite these encouraging facts, your odds for successful treatment and survival can be all over the place. It’s like trying to navigate through a maze blindfolded, with your arms tied behind your back, and a hungry lion chasing after you (okay, maybe not that extreme, but you get the picture). Factors such as your age, overall health at the time of diagnosis, the stage at which the cancer is discovered, and the type of treatment you receive all play a role. And here’s where things get even more complicated – race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status can also affect these elements.

According to data from the National Cancer Institute, myeloma is about twice as common in Black people as in white people. Black individuals are twice as likely to die from myeloma, even though they are usually diagnosed at younger ages. (Unfortunately, there’s less data available about the rates in other racial and ethnic groups.) Now, before you jump to any conclusions, brace yourself for a twist in the plot!

The Genetic Advantage?

While there are often genetic differences between myeloma in Black people compared to white people, research suggests that these variations might actually give Black people an edge. It’s like being dealt a wild card in a high-stakes poker game. But wait, if that’s the case, then why the difference in outcomes?

“The major reason is health care inequity related to the treatment of multiple myeloma affecting Black patients,” says Dr. Srinivas Devarakonda, a hematological oncologist at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Batting against a stacked deck, Black patients face significant disparities in diagnosis and treatment.

Disparities in Multiple Myeloma Diagnosis and Treatment

As with any cancer, early detection and treatment increase your odds of survival in myeloma. However, Black patients tend to be diagnosed with this cancer at a later, more advanced stage. It’s like being on a speeding train towards a cliff, with no emergency brakes. And to add insult to injury, they often lack access to the latest and best treatments that could potentially save their lives. It’s like being stuck on a desert island, surrounded by life-saving technology, but with no way to reach it.

When someone has “relapsed refractory myeloma,” meaning that the cancer comes back despite treatment, access to cutting-edge care is critical. But here’s the shocking truth – Black people with myeloma are less likely to be offered triple therapy, CAR-T therapy, or a stem cell transplant. It’s like being given a handshake when you deserve a high-five. The inequality in treatment options is mind-boggling.

How Is the Medical Community Addressing Race Disparities?

Recent research has shown that when myeloma patients receive equal treatment, Black people fare just as well, if not better, than white people. So, how do we ensure that everyone receives equally good care? Change isn’t fast or easy, but there’s hope on the horizon.

“There has been increased awareness of the health care disparities in cancer care, including in multiple myeloma, and the need to address them in the last few years,” says Dr. Devarakonda. Several scientific organizations have made diversity and equity their priorities, and drug companies are starting to require more minority patients in clinical trials. It’s like a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Increasing awareness about myeloma among minorities is also crucial. This means empowering people at high risk or with abnormal bloodwork to advocate for themselves. It’s like giving them a megaphone to speak up and say, “Hey doc, something doesn’t seem right here!” But it’s not just about the patients. The medical system and society as a whole need to take responsibility for this systemic issue, too. It’s like a group project where everyone needs to pull their weight.

Furthermore, routine screenings for people at high risk for myeloma could have a significant impact on survival rates. Early detection is key, just like spotting a penny on the ground before it’s lost in the shuffle. Dr. Irene Ghobrial, director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program for multiple myeloma at Dana-Farber, believes that implementing a screening program for those with precursor conditions like MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance) could save more lives.

Right now, doctors often adopt a “watch and wait” strategy for individuals with MGUS, which means frequent checkups but no treatment until the disease progresses. However, challenging the status quo and treating MGUS earlier could make a world of difference. It’s like shifting gears from neutral to drive when the road ahead is clear. The PROMISE study, which focuses on early screening, aims to include African Americans aged 30 and older, as well as people with a first-degree relative who has blood cancer.


While the battle against racial disparities in myeloma treatment is far from over, progress is being made. With increased awareness, diversity in clinical trials, and a dedication to equity, we have a fighting chance. So, let’s band together – healthcare professionals, patients, and society as a whole – to level the playing field. Let’s transform a tale of inequality into a story of triumph.

Now, it’s your turn! What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you or someone you know been affected by racial disparities in healthcare? Share your experiences and let’s continue the conversation. After all, change begins with a single voice.

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