Understanding the Key Aspects of a Multiple Myeloma Diagnosis


A multiple myeloma expert helps newly diagnosed patients understand the standard of care for their disease.

The landscape for treating patients with multiple myeloma is constantly evolving, but for newly diagnosed patients the message remains the same, continue long term therapy until intolerable toxicity or progression of disease, according to Dr. Joshua Richter.

Richter, an assistant professor of medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute at the Ichan School of Medicine in Mt. Sinai Hospital located in New York City, noted that there are always exceptions to this rule, but the standard of care is to keep patients with multiple myeloma to continue therapy long term.

This standard of care, however, presents unique challenges and questions for newly diagnosed patients about to undergo treatment. In an interview during the 2019 CURE® Educated Patient® Summit on Multiple Myeloma in Charlotte, North Carolina, Richter had the chance to address the key aspects of a multiple myeloma diagnosis and how he addresses common questions from patients.

CURE®: What does transplant eligible and transplant ineligible mean for patients?

Richter: The notion of transparent eligibility in the U.S. is not clearly defined. One of the people who trained me used to say, “Do the patients have the tiger?” — relating back to “Rocky,” and essentially what this means is people who are younger tend to be more eligible. So, are you able to undergo the intensive nature of that procedure and chemotherapy?

If you're younger and healthier, you're generally transplant eligible. As you get older, with more medical problems, it becomes more of a risk. Everything in medicine from a Tylenol to a transplant has a risk and benefit. If you are 105 years old and had a heart attack last week, you're not going to be eligible. If you're 40 and otherwise healthy, you're eligible and everywhere in between is an evaluation of risks and benefits.

How would you describe the standard of care for patients with multiple myeloma?

In general, the standard of care is to attempt to get people onto three drugs. The three drugs usually mean a steroid, and then either an immunomodulatory drug, a proteasome inhibitor or a monoclonal antibody, and using those different combinations to come up with two or three-drug combinations, and actually in some cases four-drug combinations.

The general discussion of which one makes sense is we generally try to put some on a three-drug combination and the two most common ones now — VRd (Velcade, Revlimid, and dexamethasone) is really a very big standard approach. There's some really wonderful, emerging data from the MAIA study, looking at taking Revlimid and dexamethasone and adding Darzalex (daratumumab) as a three-drug regimen for people who are not going on to transplant and some of that data looks amazing.

But for the most part, the precision that we use has to do not so much with the tumor but with the patient. Meaning for some diseases, the precision in the upfront setting is we look at a genetic marker and we target that. But for myeloma our upfront choice of therapy is saying, what are your comorbidities? What are your risks? For someone who has neuropathy, we may avoid Velcade. Someone has heart issues, we may avoid carfilzomib (Kyprolis) and if someone has difficult coming back and forth for long infusions, we may avoid Darzalex. So, most of the precision that we use is custom tailoring it not necessarily to the disease upfront, although that's part of it, but also to the patient.

What is the role of stem cell transplantation in treating patients with multiple myeloma?

The role of transplant is constantly evolving in myeloma. A generation ago, when we didn't have very good drugs, transplant was clearly the best thing to do because we didn't have good medicines. Transplant was the only way to get deep and durable remissions. Nowadays that we have such better therapies and even better ones along the way, it's being called into question about how much do we still need transplant. And it's a case by case basis, some people still clearly benefit from transplant.

It's an important discussion to have with your provider. But the risks have been well established for many years and we know how to manage them very well. Although there are risks for it, they're generally consolidated into a couple weeks to a couple of months, as opposed to being on long term treatment that can have ongoing risk of side effects. So, yes, they may be higher, but it's usually for a self-contained amount of time.

It's still a very important tool in our armamentarium to treat patients. Now, that being said, the majority of patients in the United States do not receive autologous transplant, so only about 30% and part of the reason has to do with the age of patients. The average age of a myeloma patient in the U.S. is 69, and many people in their 70s and 80s have other medical problems that make them not eligible for transplant.

There are some socioeconomic reasons, as well as referral patterns and access to care. I live in New York City, you can throw a rock and hit a transplant center, but there are parts of the country where the closest transplant center is hours and hours and hours away. And if you are older, sick or don't have easy transportation, it may be more difficult. So, many people do not receive transplant. However, many people nowadays may not even need it because our drugs have gotten so much better.

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