African Americans make up 20% of all multiple myeloma cases in the U.S. Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer of the plasma cells and it is the most common form of blood cancer among African Americans. In a healthy body, plasma cells produce antibodies to help protect us from germs and infection; when plasma cells become cancerous they multiply out of control and eventually outnumber normal cells. The result is multiple myeloma.
Like most blood cancers, multiple myeloma starts developing in the plasma cells of the body’s bone marrow, the spongy tissue in the center of most bones, and spreads to other parts of the body. Multiple myeloma can be either primary refractory myeloma, which means it does not respond to treatment, or relapsed and refractory myeloma which means that the disease will go through phases where it responds or does not respond to treatment or when a person with myeloma experiences a progression of myeloma within 60 days of receiving the last dose of treatment.
African Americans are twice as likely to develop multiple myeloma than other ethnicities and are faced with greater mortality rates. In addition, studies have shown that multiple myeloma is different in African Americans than in white Americans. For example, African Americans on average have an earlier age of onset of multiple myeloma compared to white Americans. Research is ongoing to find out why these disparities exist. However, genetic predispositions to pre-myeloma underlying conditions such as MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance)—a benign condition in which the body produces abnormal proteins in the blood—may explain why African Americans are more at risk for developing multiple myeloma.
Increased survival rates and better health outcomes for multiple myeloma patients are often the result of autologous stem cell transplants, newer drugs, using these newer drugs in combination, and early care. Despite being more likely to develop multiple myeloma and experiencing lower survival rates, African Americans only make up 6% of all multiple myeloma clinical study participants.
Disparities in health outcomes for African Americans living with multiple myeloma can be attributed to several factors. African American patients are significantly less likely to be offered a stem cell transplant, and experience extended average time to first-line therapy initiation which impacts the likelihood of early care. African Americans are also less likely to be referred as patients for clinical studies by their healthcare providers. This could be because of poor patient-provider relationships, conscious and unconscious bias, cultural insensitivity, and a lack of available minority investigators. In addition, socioeconomic barriers such as transportation, cost, and access to healthcare limit African Americans’ access to timely and quality healthcare.
While disparities in multiple myeloma diagnoses and mortality rates are evident in African American health outcomes and multiple myeloma remains incurable, currently approved treatment options are available and can aid in prolonging or sustaining remission.
If you have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, you may be eligible to participate in a multiple myeloma clinical study. As a study participant, you may have access to investigative drugs and healthcare professionals that will be able to answer questions you may have about the study.
To see if you’re eligible for a study on multiple myeloma, visit SparkCures.