This will be my third ASH experience and the last one was five years ago in Atlanta. ASH is again in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center, which is just over three miles from my home. I am so excited to be attending ASH with the presentations of research and clinical trials along with discussions around the new therapies.
Since I joined the Atlanta support group in 1998, when my husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, the advances in treatment options have been amazing! I have worked to keep up with the latest developments by attending IMF Regional Community Workshops and listening to IMF webinars. These have been helpful in understanding the new treatment options and the progression of research. In many of the presentations, the doctors and nurses are very passionate about improving quality of life and moving closer to a cure. I believe that with the new therapies that they are getting closer to controlling this disease. The advanced tools that are now available to the researchers are allowing them to dig deeper into the genetics of the MM cells and look at how those cells function differently from normal plasma cells. The tools allow them to understand what is happening on the surface of the MM cells and how that can be altered to flag them for destruction by the immune system and the drugs without harming other cells. This approach to identify characteristics of the myeloma cells can drive targeted treatment and protect normal cells, thereby reducing side effects. The research is progressing rapidly, and many doctors can visualize what a cure would be like. Getting there involves more time to evaluate methods and collect the critical data that validates targeted treatment and improved survival. We are so close and getting closer. This year’s ASH promises to reveal significant progress.
For the more than thirty myeloma groups that I visit and support, I want to get as much information as possible out of this year’s ASH. The latest approved treatments, monoclonal antibodies, are extending the lives of patients with minimal side effects in most cases. These trials are adding to the data about survival rates based on genetic profiles. In addition, there are new classes of drugs being developed that attack the myeloma in new ways. Along with the new drugs is the reduction of side effects so that patients can maintain therapy for a longer period and stay in remission longer. Many discussions at support group meetings are about managing side effects so that patients can stay on their prescribed therapy. The presentations on the clinical trials include description and measurement of side effects. I am particularly interested in the impact of side effects since I hear so many stories about reduced quality of life with the side effects. Many patients have adapted to these issues, but they remain a challenge to patients and their caregivers.