Australians living with an incurable blood cancer can now access a new treatment that was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) this week.
The blood cancer myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow, according to the Cancer Council. It is often called multiple myeloma because 90 per cent of those diagnosed have multiple bone lesions.
Myeloma is Australia’s third most common blood cancer, after lymphoma and leukaemia, and about 18,000 Australians are living with multiple myeloma at any given time. Only half will survive five years after they have been diagnosed.
The disease usually occurs in people aged over 60 and is more common in men.
The Cancer Council explains that plasma cells, a type of white blood cell, are found in the bone marrow and are part of the immune system that helps to fight infection. When cancerous, these abnormal plasma cells spread throughout the bone marrow and block the pathway for normal blood cells.
The announcement this week advised that REVLIMID® (lenalidomide) is Australia’s first and only maintenance treatment for those newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma who have undergone a stem cell transplant. It coincided with an article in the Medical Journal of Australia’s MJA Insight calling for “timely access to effective treatments for those living with multiple myeloma”.
The article’s author, Professor Miles Prince, clinical haematologist and director of cancer immunology and molecular oncology at Epworth Healthcare in Melbourne, welcomed the listing of the treatment on the PBS. He said that broadening access to multiple myeloma treatments was critical to improving patients’ quality of life.
“Currently, people living with myeloma have a median survival rate of more than seven years, which is significant in comparison to the median survival rate of just three years in the early 2000s.
“For survival rates to continue to improve, however, patients must receive timely access to the most effective treatments.
“The PBS listing of maintenance for multiple myeloma will provide newly diagnosed patients with an additional treatment option for their disease.”
Myeloma Australia CEO Steve Roach also welcomed the listing of the new treatment.
“The multiple myeloma patient journey involves a pattern of response, remission and relapse,” he said, “with individuals responding differently to certain treatments due to the complex nature of the devastating disease.
“Additional treatment options are required throughout the patient journey, for both the newly diagnosed and for those who have already commenced therapy.
“Although incurable, we hope that multiple myeloma will one day be treated as a chronic, rather than a terminal disease.”
Healthcare professionals report that the incurable nature of the disease and the probability of relapse likely has a psychological impact on patients, who live in fear even when in remission.
Studies reveal that more than half (52 per cent) of those living with multiple myeloma report feeling anxious or depressed and that improving access to treatment, and extending time spent in remission, would help to improve psychological wellbeing.
Maria (53) was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December 2018 and said she found her diagnosis overwhelming.
She told Myeloma Australia: “When my husband Danny and I first heard the diagnosis, we were completely overwhelmed. We didn’t know what myeloma was and we didn’t know what this meant short or long term. I didn’t know if I was going to die in a month, a year or 10 years.
“During my journey, I blogged about my experience with multiple myeloma and posted to my Facebook daily to keep the calls and fears of my family and friends at bay. I have since accepted that myeloma is now a part of my life. I have no anger or fear and instead just live in the moment and take one day at a time.
“It’s very exciting to see new treatment options for multiple myeloma being funded by the government, and I hope to keep raising awareness to ensure the myeloma community continues to receive access to the best treatment options available.”
Myeloma Australia says the disease can be challenging to diagnose due to its wide range of symptoms, including high blood calcium levels, anaemia, fatigue, kidney failure, recurrent infections and bone pain.
Were you aware of the symptoms of myeloma?
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