Multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting it is 1 in 132. Unfortunately, African Americans have twice the risk of developing it when compared to white Americans.
So what should you know about this disease? From what symptoms to look out for to how to influence the care you receive after a diagnosis, you will learn everything you need to know in our “Multiple Myeloma: Don’t Guess” session.
Held during our recent Black Health Matters Kappa Summit and moderated by Bill Whyte (Head, Janssen North America Pharmaceuticals, Strategic Partnerships), this discussion featured the expertise of Dr. Brandon Blue, Dr. Bishop Horace Smith and patient advocate, Dr. Tiffany Williams.
According to Dr. Blue, the best way to learn about this disease is to talk about it. Let’s start with symptoms. Early signs of multiple myeloma include severe fatigue, low white blood cell count, anemia and in severe cases, bone fractures.
But you shouldn’t wait until you notice symptoms to check in with your doctors. Dr. Smith encourages African Americans to get regular check-ups so that if there is a diagnosis, the treatments can start earlier. “Often, we wait until we have symptoms to get a diagnosis,” he explained.
African Americans are getting multiple myeloma at younger ages, with higher rates of diagnosis, as well as having the highest rates of mortality. They’re also more likely to be misdiagnosed with renal dysfunction, anemia, bone fracture, and hypercalcemia. Doctors often brush off key symptoms as “typical” health issues that African Americans experience instead of doing the bone marrow biopsy test to confirm if it is multiple myeloma.
Though these disparities exist, communicating well with your doctor can play a role in receiving the care you deserve. Fortunately, there are various treatments available including chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation and anti-cancer drugs like Darzalex.
Even better, multiple myeloma patients can live in remission for many years. For example, stem cell transplant is one of the best therapeutic options available, but black people are not receiving this treatment at the same rates white people are. So it’s beneficial to ask your doctor about options, educate yourself, and get a second opinion as well.
“I am so encouraged and excited by the advancement in treatment because I know that this is an incurable cancer that I am living with and one day I might need more treatment,” shared Tiffany Williams, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at 46.
Want to learn more? Watch the full session in the video below.