The recent news that former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw is being treated for multiple myeloma drew headlines and raised the profile of this form of cancer that is diagnosed in some 24,000 Americans each year.
Multiple myeloma is a blood, or hematological, cancer that develops in a type of white blood cells called plasma cells. Normally plasma cells fight infections, but in patients with multiple myeloma the cells multiply at a high rate.
“I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come,” the 74-year-old Brokaw stated in a release issued by NBC.
The development of so-called “antimyeloma” agents over the last 15 years has transformed treatment and prognosis for people with multiple myeloma like Mr. Brokaw, says Jefferson medical oncologist Manish Sharma, MD, who specializes in hematological cancers and bone marrow transplantation at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson.
Dr. Sharma and Jefferson are not involved in Mr. Brokaw’s care.
Dr. Sharma cares for patients with multiple myeloma, and the disease is a focus of his research. In fact, he is involved in clinical trials in myeloma, both national, multicenter trials, as well as studies developed at Jefferson.
“We have expertise in treating all types of patients with multiple myeloma,” Dr. Sharma says.
That includes both older patients with medications and autologous stem cell transplants using the patient’s own stem cells. It also includes younger patients whose course of care may include allogeneic or donated stem cell transplants.
The first of the new antimyeloma medications was an old drug with a tragic history – thalidomide, a drug given to pregnant women in the 1950s and ‘60s for morning sickness that caused severe, life-threatening birth defects in their children.
But, Dr. Sharma explains that the finding that thalidomide could benefit cancer patients in the 1990s has led to the development of new medications and transformed the care of patients like Tom Brokaw.
“Before these drugs, life expectancy was approximately three years,” Dr. Sharma says. “Now 70 percent are still alive at the five-year mark, and we see many patients who live for a decade or more with multiple myeloma.”
For more information, or to make an appointment with a Jefferson specialist, call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) or use our online appointment request form.
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