Once a frightful and terminal diagnosis, new approaches to the detection and treatment of blood cancers such as multiple myeloma have completely changed the story. “With multiple myeloma, we’re now able to talk about a chronic condition rather than a deadly one, and that’s a big, big change,” says UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center oncologist Robyn M. Scherber, M.D., MPH.
Multiple myeloma presents unique challenges. Unlike many cancers, which are linked to specific risk factors, multiple myeloma cannot be prevented in the traditional sense. “By being proactive, however, we have the opportunity to reduce this type of cancer’s detrimental effects considerably,” asserts Dr. Scherber.
New studies have demonstrated that there may be risk factors that are shared between family members that contribute to the development of multiple myeloma. The key to a successful outcome, says Dr. Scherber, is information. “If you have a family history of blood or marrow cancers, talk with your physician about it.”
Here are a few important pieces of advice from Dr. Scherber:
- Family History – The early indicator of your risk for developing multiple myeloma is a family history of cancers of the blood or bone marrow. If relatives have been diagnosed with these cancers in the past, says Dr. Scherber, it’s wise to start talking with a primary care physician and putting together a routine blood monitoring plan.
- Genetic Screening – Multiple myeloma has been found to have a high correlation with other genetic changes in the blood that leads to much of the blood being from one source. This entity, called CHIP (Clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential). “While not a guarantee that someone will develop multiple myeloma or other blood-related cancers, the presence of the CHIP mutation does tell us who may be at risk,” Dr. Scherber shares. The Cancer Genetics and High-Risk Screening Clinic at UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson is one of the nation’s leading such testing facilities. Patients with family histories of multiple myeloma or other blood cancers should discuss genetic screening with their primary care physicians.
- Healthy Lifestyle – “If we know early that someone is at increased risk for blood cancer, there are lots of creative things we can do to potentially slow its progress to a level that is no longer considered life-threatening,” Dr. Scherber says. Research currently underway at UT Health San Antonio suggests that reducing stress, eating foods rich in anti-inflammatory components, getting plenty of exercises, and undertaking calming activities, such as mindful practice and yoga, may be able to help. “We are learning that inflammation in the body is a major complicating factor for people with the CHIP mutation, but the good news is that there are things we can do about it,” she adds.
- Listen to Your Body – “I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your body; if something seems a little off, it may be an early signal for a blood issue, particularly if blood cancers run in your family,” Dr. Scherber says. Early symptoms of multiple myeloma typically include fatigue, kidney trouble, numbness in the hands and feet, a tendency to break bones easily, or bones that ache often. The presence of any or all of these symptoms, without another explanation, should prompt a visit with your doctor.
“The trick with any blood-related cancers is catching them early because the blood touches everything in our bodies,” stresses Dr. Scherber. Such cancers progress and spread very quickly if ignored. With proper care and diligence, however, it is possible to live with cancers such as multiple myeloma. “We now have access to more creative ways to help people diagnosed with blood cancers live long, healthy lives than ever before,” she says.
To learn more about blood or bone marrow cancers, or to schedule an appointment, visit UTHealthsaMDAnderson.org or call 210-450-1000.