Even though multiple myeloma is considered a rare cancer that affects the plasma cells, it is quickly becoming a growing concern within the African American community. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that roughly 24,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year. According to the National Cancer Institute, multiple myeloma represents 1.3 percent of new cancer cases in this country each year.
With this information we decided to host an in depth Q&A with Dr. Melvin Gaskins (oncologist).
BDO: What is multiple myeloma and how does it affect one’s health? What are the symptoms and how close are we to a cure?
Dr. Gaskins: Multiple myeloma is a disease characterized by an abnormal growth of plasma cells in the bone marrow. This may present as destructive bone lesions, anemia (low blood count), and increased calcium level or kidney failure. The disease is generally considered incurable however survival has dramatically increased over the past several years.
BDO: Are African Americans more at risk for multiple myeloma, than in the past?
Dr. Gaskins: Multiple myeloma counts for about 1.4% of all cancers. There were over 24,000 new cases in the United States last year. There was an estimated 11,000 deaths due to multiple myeloma. African American and blacks from Africa have about a 2-3 times higher risk of developing multiple myeloma. The cause of this is unknown.
BDO: What kind of doctors do I see if I think I have multiple myeloma?
Dr. Gaskins: In general your primary care physician may suspect multiple myeloma after doing some routine yearly labs or if you have some bone pain. He will then send you to a hematologist/oncologist or a medical oncologist to confirm the diagnosis.