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African Americans at Higher Risk of Developing Multiple Myeloma Cancer

African Americans are twice as likely to develop and die as a result of multiple myeloma cancer than white Americans. In addition, African Americans are also more likely to develop multiple myeloma at an earlier age.

So, what exactly is multiple myeloma and why do these disparities exist? Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that develops in plasma cells in bone marrow—the soft, sponge-like tissue in the center of bones.

Plasma cells are white blood cells that secrete antibodies that help our bodies fight off bacteria, viruses, infection, and disease. Multiple myeloma occurs when plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control so much so that they outnumber normal cells.

Individuals diagnosed with multiple myeloma can either have primary refractory myeloma (multiple myeloma that does not respond to initial treatment) or relapsed and refractory myeloma (multiple myeloma that initially responds to treatment but then stops responding to it after a time).

If you have been diagnosed with relapsed and refractory myeloma, you may want to consider participating in a multiple myeloma clinical study. By volunteering as a study participant, you’ll have access to healthcare professionals that will answer your questions and provide support to help you understand for which investigative treatment you may qualify.

Genetic disparities

Multiple myeloma is the most common type of blood cancer that affects African Americans. One factor that can explain why African Americans are at a higher risk of developing multiple myeloma, is genetics. For example, the pre-myeloma condition MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance) is found to be more common in African Americans. MGUS is a condition in which a higher-than-normal level of an abnormal protein is present in the blood. MGUS is mostly benign, but it can develop into multiple myeloma.

A recent study sampled and compared bone marrow DNA from patients of African and European ancestry who had been diagnosed with a monoclonal gammopathy. The study found that those with 80% or greater African ancestry were also more likely to have certain cytogenetic abnormalities that are observed in multiple myeloma. Research is still ongoing, however, the findings in this study may help explain why multiple myeloma shows up differently in African Americans than in white Americans due to certain genetic markers.

African Americans who have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma are also more likely to have a genetic mutation called translocation—which is an abnormal change in the DNA where chromosomes break off and connect to other chromosomes. Translocations may contribute to the aggressiveness of multiple myeloma and certain translocations are linked to poorer outcomes.

Because multiple myeloma shows up differently in African Americans, it’s critical for African Americans to be represented in clinical studies. African American participation is valuable because it allows researchers and healthcare professionals to further understand multiple myeloma in African Americans and develop potentially better treatment options for them in the future. Without participation, African Americans will continue to be at a disadvantage in health outcomes.

Healthcare disparities

Healthcare disparities and a lack of representation in research studies contribute to higher fatality rates in African Americans. What does this look like? Access to healthcare is a major contributing factor to health outcomes and African Americans account for 23.1% of uninsured adult persons nationwide. In addition, African Americans are more likely to experience a delayed diagnosis and are less likely to be offered novel treatment options and resources.

To address these disparities, African American representation is needed in multiple myeloma disease research. Today, only 6% of multiple myeloma research participants are African American, yet African Americans make up 20% of all multiple myeloma cases in the U.S.

To see if you’re eligible for a study on multiple myeloma, visit SparkCures.


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