OU Health Oncologist and State Representative Highlight Multiple Myeloma Awareness

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OU Health Oncologist and State Representative Highlight Multiple Myeloma Awareness

March is National Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, and State Representative Ajay Pittman-D, House District 99 is joining specialists at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center to raise awareness about this blood cancer.

“Our goal in Oklahoma is to promote awareness in hopes to increase early detection screenings,” Pittman said.

Adam Asch, M.D., a hematology-oncology specialist at Stephenson, explained that multiple myeloma is a rare cancer of the cells that normally produce antibodies to fight infection. The malignant plasma cells reproduce in the bone marrow, producing a single abnormal antibody and overtaking normal plasma cells. The abnormal antibody, also called M protein, can lead to impaired immune response, kidney failure, or weakened bones with an associated risk of fracture.

“The genetic mutations that cause multiple myeloma vary, and although there are specific mutations that may be associated with myeloma, it is not considered a hereditary disease,” said Asch.

These, and other symptoms are important and not uncommon:

  • Bone damage - Most people (85%) will have bone damage to some extent, which causes pain and also elevates risk for fractures or spinal cord compression.
  • Fatigue – Anemia (low red blood cell count) causes the feeling of weariness. Fewer red blood cells result in less oxygen being delivered to organs and muscles. When the body’s oxygen supply is insufficient, fatigue occurs.
  • Poor kidney function/kidney failure – excess M protein and calcium in the blood make the kidneys work harder and they may fail to function as they should. If less urine is being produced, it may be the result of impaired kidney function.
  • Hypercalcemia – this condition is related to bone destruction, which causes excess calcium to be released into the bloodstream. It is important to identify and treat the condition quickly. Symptoms of hypercalcemia include loss of appetite, increased thirst, increase urination, restlessness, confusion or inability to concentrate and/or nausea and vomiting.

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in patients who suffer from previous medical conditions such as multiple myeloma, further complicate access to care and limit survival rates,” Pittman said. “I am proud to be a partner of the National Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation whose mission is to drive discoveries for new treatments, accelerate groundbreaking clinical trials and fuel the most robust, data-driven initiatives in cancer research, along with its goal of finding a cure for every patient diagnosed with multiple myeloma.”

Pittman points to former Secretary of State Colin Powell as a prime example of how the challenges of this disease are compounded by COVID 19 and its variants, which have affected patients who are fully vaccinated but have compromised immune systems due to diagnoses like multiple myeloma.

“As a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Public Health Committee, I appreciate the work of local partners including OU Health and the OU Health Sciences Center, to prioritize these initiatives and move this conversation forward in local medical communities,” said Pittman. “I believe research data shows that multiple myeloma and COVID-19 disproportionately affect communities of color. My hope is that through our efforts to increase awareness for screenings and access to medical care, we can remain on track to save lives in Oklahoma.”

Asch said the number of new approved therapies for myeloma has been remarkable. “As a result of these new therapies, the projected life expectancy at five years, now exceeds 75%. Even newer and more effective therapies are on their way, and are currently being evaluated at Stephenson Cancer Center in several clinical trials. The newest therapy, CAR-T cell therapy, is a revolutionary therapy that utilizes patients’ immune cells to create a ‘tumor killing’ cell. We develop treatment plans in conjunction with patients and consider the unique specifics of each patient—his or her specific diagnosis and preferences. Through research, advances are making better therapies and better outcomes possible, with improved survival and quality of life.”