A Snapshot of Myeloma

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Incidence and Mortality

Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma or plasma cell myeloma, is the third most common blood cancer (after lymphoma and leukemia) in the United States and constitutes approximately 1.4 percent of the estimated new cancer cases in 2014. Since 1975, overall myeloma incidence has increased nearly 1 percent annually. Overall mortality rates peaked in the mid-1990s and have fallen in recent years.

Men have a higher incidence of myeloma than women. In addition, African Americans have over twice the incidence and mortality rates of whites.

It is estimated that more than 24,000 individuals will be diagnosed with myeloma in the United States in 2014, and more than 11,000 will die from this disease.

Risk factors for myeloma include being middle aged or older, being black, being male, having been exposed to radiation or certain chemicals, and having a personal history of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or isolated plasmacytoma of the bone. There is no standard or routine screening test for myeloma. Standard treatments for myeloma include chemotherapy, corticosteroid therapy, targeted therapy, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant, biological therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and watchful waiting.

Line graphs showing U.S. Myeloma Incidence and mortality per 100,000 by race and gender from 1991-2011. In 2011, African America males have the highest incidence, followed by African American females, white males, and white females. In 2011, African American males have the highest mortality, followed by African American females, white males, and white females.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additional statistics and charts are available at the SEER Web site.

NCI’s Investment in Myeloma Research

To learn more about the research NCI conducts and supports in myeloma, visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio (NFRP). The NFRP includes information about research grants, contract awards, and intramural research projects funded by NCI. When exploring this information, it should be noted that approximately half of the NCI budget supports basic research that may not be specific to one type of cancer. By its nature, basic research cuts across many disease areas, contributing to our knowledge of the underlying biology of cancer and enabling the research community to make advances against many cancer types. For these reasons, the funding levels reported in NFRP may not definitively report all research relevant to a given category.

Pie chart of NCI Myeloma Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2013.  Biology, 24%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 9%.  Prevention, 3%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 7%.  Treatment, 45%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 4%.  Scientific model systems, 8%.

Source: NCI Funded Research Portfolio. Only projects with assigned common scientific outline area codes are included. A description of relevant research projects can be found on the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site.

Other NCI programs and activities relevant to myeloma include:

Selected Advances in Myeloma Research

  • In a mouse model of myeloma, a combination of inhibitors that produce epigenetic changes in DNA (that is, structural alterations that affect gene expression) through different mechanisms acted synergistically to reduce tumor burden and prolong survival. Additionally, these results provide evidence that a mouse model may aid in predicting the clinical utility of novel therapies by identifying efficacious and safe combinations and eliminating ineffective drug combinations. Published September 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Thalidomide-like drugs such as lenalidamide, which are effective treatments for myeloma, work by binding cereblon, a protein that marks cellular proteins for degradation, triggering the destruction of two B cell transcription factors that are overactive in myeloma cells. This mechanism is distinct from the way that thalidomide-like drugs cause birth defects—by inactivating cereblon—and suggests that these opposing functions may be uncoupled to produce a safer, and potentially more widely applicable, drug. Published November 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • In the United States, African Americans have a higher prevalence of MGUS and a higher likelihood of progressing from MGUS to myeloma than whites or Hispanics. Published January 2014. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A patient with relapsed drug-refractory myeloma experienced a durable complete remission when treated with an engineered measles virus that is selectively destructive to myeloma plasma cells. Published May 2014. [PubMed Abstract]

Additional Resources for Myeloma

  • Posted: November 5, 2014