According to recent statistics, Blacks are twice as likely to develop multiple myeloma as other ethnicities. To make matters worse, they also have a higher mortality rate when it comes to this form of cancer. The fact that these numbers persist despite the advances that have been made in treating this disease has been of great concern to doctors and researchers alike. It’s because of this concern that they have set out to determine what might be causing this disparity and more importantly, what can be done about it.
What’s Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that affects the plasma cells in your body. Typically, these cells are found in bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system as they are responsible for producing certain proteins.
When plasma cells are affected by cancer, however, they reproduce uncontrollably and produce a different protein.
This abnormal protein is known as monoclonal immunoglobulin and its presence is often used as a reason to dig deeper for the presence of cancerous cells.
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Why Are African Americans At Greater Risk?
The preliminary studies strongly suggest that genetics play a huge factor in why African Americans are at a higher risk for developing multiple myeloma.
When studying blood and bone marrow samples taken from Black people, researchers discovered that a large number of those who were being studied had the abnormal protein, monoclonal immunoglobulin.
This condition, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), is mostly benign in other ethnicities but is highly likely to become multiple myeloma in African Americans.
Researchers are proposing that this development may be linked to the fact that 80% of the African Americans who were studied have specific cytogenic markers that have been found in those who have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. One of these markers is the propensity for having odd-numbered chromosomes.
Additionally, Black people who have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma generally show translocation, which is a genetic anomaly where chromosomes break off and attach themselves to others.
While they were investigating what African Americans experience when dealing with multiple myeloma, researchers also found an interesting gap in the healthcare that they receive.
The numbers showed that Black people were more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage in the disease than other ethnicities.
They also weren’t given access to newer treatments that could be more effective. To compound these two issues, African Americans were less likely to be insured, which would severely compromise their ability to get the care they need.
RELATED: Why Should African Americans Participate in Clinical Trials?
What You Can Do About It
Given what the numbers say, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risk and getting tested. An early diagnosis is key when it comes to fighting cancer. As mentioned previously, it’s possible that Black people may need a different course of treatment than other ethnicities because of their genetic predisposition to the disease. Unfortunately, the data to support this is lacking.
If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, consider enrolling in a clinical trial as African Americans typically make up less than 7% of the people who are involved. By doing this, you can help researchers to get the data they need while gaining access to newer treatment options that may be more effective. To get started, talk to your doctor about the clinical trials that are available and how to go about ensuring that you meet the criteria.
Studies suggest that Black people are more likely to develop multiple myeloma because of their genetics. However, that doesn’t mean you have to give up hope. It helps to get diagnosed early. Getting involved with a clinical trial can also improve your chances of survival while making a significant impact on the data researchers have for treating African Americans.