Courtesy of Siteman Cancer Center
Dr. Ravi Vij has researched and treated cancer at Siteman Cancer Center for over two decades.
Multiple myeloma is the second-most common blood cancer after non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but many people still aren't familiar with the disease.
“It is more common than any leukemia, but it doesn’t have as much name recognition,” says Dr. Ravi Vij, an oncologist with Washington University School of Medicine. “When a person develops myeloma, they often have never heard about it.”
For more than two decades, Vij has worked as a bone marrow transplant specialist and medical oncologist at Siteman Cancer Center, where he researches new therapies for the disease. “We’ve made tremendous progress over the last 15 odd years,” he says, noting that Wash. U. patients have contributed to one of the largest tissue repositories in the nation as part of the CoMMpass Study, which is seeking to sequence more than 1,000 patients at diagnosis and every time they relapse. It will help enable researchers to examine “how the genetic landscape of the disease evolves over time,” says Vij.
“Among disease states, it is the No. 1 cancer for which patients are placed on clinical trials at Washington University,” adds Vij. Nearly 350 new diagnoses of multiple myeloma are referred to Wash. U. each year, he says.
The American Cancer Society estimates that the disease causes an average of 560 new diagnoses per year in Missouri and 270 deaths per year. Nationwide, there are an estimated 30,000 new diagnoses annually, and 13,000 Americans die from the disease each year. Multiple myeloma affects African-Americans at twice the rate of Caucasians. The five-year survival rate remains below 50 percent.
Diagnosis can also be tricky. “Myeloma has a lot of non-specific symptoms,” says Vij. Common symptoms include back pain, fatigue, and pain—though many people are diagnosed during checkups, before the disease begins to exhibit any symptoms.
The good news: Advances in healthcare are providing myeloma patients with more options. “This cancer is now the prototype of chronic disease," says Vij, "with patients leading good, healthy, productive lives for years.”
For more information on the disease, visit the International Myeloma Foundation's website.