New research into cancer treatment is producing promising results for those suffering from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.
The study, conducted at the University of Montreal and the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal, showed that patients who were treated with a two-stage transplantation of bone marrow tissue had a total cure rate of 41 per cent, which is much higher than the historical average for multiple myeloma.
“Our results have led us to offer the treatment to more patients, especially younger patients and those with poorer prognoses,” said Dr. Jean Roy, lead author of the study.
Multiple myeloma starts with the blood’s plasma cells found within the bone marrow, the spongy tissue within bones where blood cells are made. Responsible for the production of antibodies to fight infection, plasma cells can sometimes grow abnormally and start producing other abnormal cells. This type of cancerous growth can interfere with the proper functioning of other blood cells in the bone marrow and lead to a host of symptoms such as bone pain, anemia, infections and kidney problems.
The current survival rate for those with multiple myeloma is not good. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the average length of survival for patients with stage three multiple myeloma is 29 months.
What’s unique about the treatment carried out by Dr. Roy is that it combines two types of transplantation; first an autograft (a tissue transplant from another part of the patient’s body) of bone marrow to reduce tumor mass followed up with an allograft (a transplant from another person) three or four months later to clean the bone marrow of myeloma cancer cells and replace them with immune cells from a family donor.
Allogenic transplantation is best done with a close relative so that there is a good match between donor and recipient. Nevertheless, immunosuppressants are needed to combat rejection within the patient’s system. Dr. Roy said, “In many hospitals, doctors have abandoned the use of allografts for multiple myeloma due to the risk of toxicity and relapse.” But the mortality rate for this new dual form of transplant treatment is an impressive 10 per cent after ten years, and patients who were in remission six months after the allograft had a relapse-free survival rate of 60 per cent.
In Canada, an estimated one in 118 men is expected to develop multiple myeloma during his lifetime and one in 195 will die from it. For women, the statistics are one in 143 to develop the cancer and 1 in 239 fatalities. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 2,700 Canadians were diagnosed with multiple myeloma last year. Known risk factors for multiple myeloma include having a history of blood plasma cell disorders, having a family history of multiple myeloma, being overweight or obese and having farming as an occupation.
The study was conducted between 2001 and 2010 with 92 patients newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The results were published in the journal Bone Marrow Transplantation.