Tom Brokaw diagnosis calls attention to gains against multiple myeloma

February 12, 2014 | by Tami Dennis

TV journalist Tom Brokaw’s recent acknowledgement of his multiple myeloma diagnosis calls attention not only to the disease, but also to how much progress doctors have made against it.

Vaccines against cancer City of Hope is home to some of the most advanced work against multiple myeloma, with researchers discovering, and refining, treatments. Ultimately, vaccines could become a potent new tool against the disease.

City of Hope has been at the forefront of that progress. Our Multiple Myeloma Program is known internationally for its research breakthroughs and clinical treatments. Here, researchers have developed new combinations of chemotherapy medications and have improved procedures used for stem cell transplants and radiation treatments.

Amrita Krishnan, M.D., director of the Multiple Myeloma Program at City of Hope, summed up the prognosis for patients this way: It's improving all the time.{C}

Crucial to the progress against multiple myeloma, the second most common type of blood cancer, have been treatment advances. Chemotherapy and radiation are just part of the equation. Doctors also can use stem cell transplants and the intravenous delivery of bone-strengthening drugs called bisphosphonates.

"There are actually many treatment options available [for multiple myeloma]," Krishnan told HealthDay. "And since the introduction of several novel chemotherapy agents in 2003 and 2005, survival has gone up dramatically … Many people get treated, and then carry on with some sort of normalcy."

The future holds the promise of more drugs and more advances against myeloma, a cancer of the body's plasma cells. Immunotherapy is "the latest frontier," and researchers are now conducting both vaccine trials and T cell trials that have the potential to help the body fight the disease, Krishnan said in a separate interview.

City of Hope is one of the few institutions to offer T cell trials and is the only Southern California member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium, an important consideration for patients needing the most promising new treatments.

Such treatment and research advances gain impact from increased knowledge of the disease. “Better understanding of the disease biology – in regards to how the disease evolves over time –  and better methods of assaying for minimal residual disease contribute to our ability to tailor treatment,” Krishnan told Breakthroughs.

For patients with multiple myeloma, better understanding is where better treatments begin. 

Said Brokaw in a statement Tuesday: "With the exceptional support of my family, medical team, and freinds, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work, and adventures still to come."

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