Not only is December ASH month, but in my family, it is also birthday month! I turned 59 a week ago, and two of my four children also have December birthdays. As a matter of fact, today my younger son turned 21, so I sent him a birthday text first thing when I woke up this morning, before the day got busy with ASH. While he’s away at college and in the midst of finals, I hope that he finds time to celebrate with his friends and his older brother who lives nearby. My kids were all teenagers when I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and I am constantly grateful for all of the celebrations that I’ve been able to share with them, including birthdays, holidays, graduations, first jobs, etc. Thinking about birthdays and celebrations has reminded me of all of the reasons multiple myeloma patients have to celebrate that are being highlighted at this 64th American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting. Here are a few of my favorite #ASH22 reasons for multiple myeloma patients to celebrate:
The evolving myeloma treatment landscape provides new hope for myeloma patients. This reason to celebrate, is one that I discussed in my last blog. Overall survival rates for myeloma patients have doubled and possibly even tripled in the past decade due to the wealth of new therapies that have been developed. Yesterday and today, I learned even more about new immunotherapies for myeloma, and the amount of basic and clinical research in this area is truly incredible! I’ve been geeking out on all of the amazing science. Because there is so much new science in immunotherapies to report on, I will focus my next blog on some of the highlights of this research and what it means for patients. Even though myeloma is still incurable, there is continuous research to increase survival, and that is certainly worth celebrating.
The role of nutrition is finally getting attention in multiple myeloma research. Urvi Shaw, MD, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is leading the way in clinical trial studies to address the role of how diet affects the immune system and impacts multiple myeloma prevention, treatment, and survivorship. She also moderated the first-at-ASH panel discussion on diet and hematologic malignancies to provide up-to-date information for physicians. Patients are always asking how they can improve their diet to lower the risk of progression and improve quality of life (QoL), and it’s worth celebrating that rigorous trials are now starting to answer these questions. Early data suggests plant-based diets show meaningful effects, so I will definitely continue to increase the amount and diversity of fruits and vegetables in my diet. As a matter of fact, I celebrated with a healthy kale/mango smoothie for lunch!
Dexamethasone (dex) research generates discussion among physicians, researchers and patients. An oral abstract on a French study by Salomon Monier, MD, PhD, and colleagues showed that Darzalex (daratumumab)/Revlimid (lenalidomide), or DR, showed a higher overall response rate (89% vs 77%) compared to Revlimid/dex, or RD, in a frail, newly diagnosed multiple myeloma population. This finding suggests that dex may not be necessary in older patients where it may cause severe side effects and other challenges. While a more direct comparison of DRd vs Rd would have been preferred, the abstract generated a lot of discussion, with hashtags like #downwithdex, #ditchthedex and #darnthatdex competing on Twitter. As any myeloma patient knows, any discussion of lowering (or possibly eliminating) dex-dosing during treatment and clinical trials to limit its potential side effects is worth celebrating.
Quality of life (QoL) is becoming an expected outcome measure in clinical trials. It seemed to me that this year at ASH there have been more abstracts than ever that focus on QoL from patient-reported surveys. And even when that data was not reported, audience questions were asked about QoL. This is certainly good news for patients! With the myeloma treatment landscape expanding and providing improved progression-free and overall survival, it’s important to make sure that patients have the best QoL possible so that they can indeed celebrate both daily living as well as big milestones with their loved ones.
Increased focus on enrollment of underrepresented minority (URM) groups in clinical trials to address health inequities in myeloma care and treatment. Kenneth Anderson, MD, from Dana Farber Cancer Institute chaired a panel discussion, entitled “Underrepresented minorities in clinical trials for hematologic malignancies: what’s the data on the data?” In this session, Dr. Luciano Costa, MD, PhD from University of Alabama discussed historical URM clinical trial enrollment; Dr. Sikandar Ailawadhi, MD from Mayo Clinic discussed approaches to improve enrollment and outcomes, and Dr. Rayne Rouce, MD from Baylor College of Medicine discussed approaches to increase the proportion of URMs in clinical investigator/clinical research pathways. In addition, concurrent with ASH, five myeloma patients and providers were honored at the CURE Multiple Myeloma Awards Program, and this evening of celebrating our latest Cure Magazine Myeloma Heroes also included an important discussion around health equity disparities and how to address them. These honest discussions to raise awareness of the challenges of diversity, equity and inclusion in myeloma clinical research and care, as well as the deliberate honoring of those doing important work in this space, is definitely progress and something to celebrate, even though there is still so much work to be done.
This evening our central Massachusetts multiple myeloma support group has it monthly virtually meeting, and I can’t wait to share my top five ASH reasons to celebrate with our support group members. We always have a check in question, and this evening’s question will be “What are you celebrating this month?” I can’t wait to hear how all of my fellow myeloma friends are celebrating these days, and I hope that you also are finding reasons to celebrate too!
Jill Zitzewitz, PhD
Follow me on Twitter @JillZitzewitz