Dr. Melvin Gaskins: Multiple Myeloma Facts African Americans Need To Know

BDO: What testing would I need to undergo to make sure I don’t have multiple myeloma?

Dr. Gaskins: There are many blood test involved to assess your kidneys, the calcium level, blood counts and for abnormal proteins. You will also get a bone marrow biopsy to determine the number of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow. Finally you will have x-rays of all of the bones to see if they are involved with myeloma.

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BDO: What are multiple myeloma treatment alternatives?

Dr. Gaskins: Treatment may involve chemotherapy, immunotherapy and steroids. In some cases individuals may need radiation therapy if they have painful bone involvement. Patients who are younger than 65 years old should also be considered for a stem cell transplant. That involves taking normal bone marrow from an individual then giving high doses of chemotherapy to wipe out all of the abnormal cells. After that the normal cells are infused back into the individual.

BDO: Once diagnosed does treatment begin immediately?

Dr. Gaskins: Occasionally after all the tests have been run you are determined not to have “full blown” multiple myeloma although you may have some abnormal cells. Those persons are at risk for developing multiple myeloma later and are followed very closely by their physicians with regular blood tests. There is no need to start treatment immediately.

BDO: If treatment is needed now, what are my options and how likely am I to survive?

Dr. Gaskins: Your doctor will determine the best course of therapy for you based on your age, the stage of your disease and your general physical condition. All of those things factor into the likelihood of surviving the disease.

BDO: My aunt was diagnosed with 2nd stage multiple myeloma. What do the different stages mean?

Dr. Gaskins: Staging for multiple myeloma is a little different than other cancers. For stage I disease individuals are only mildly anemic, they have normal calcium and they have a low number of abnormal proteins. For stage III disease there is more bone involvement, significant anemia, increased calcium and a high number of abnormal proteins. Stage II individuals do not meet the criteria for stage I or stage III.

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