At some point during their life, approximately 0.7 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells. A disproportionate number of these diagnoses occur in African Americans; while African Americans represent approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, they make up about 20 percent of myeloma patients. Multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer in the United States, but the most common among African Americans.
“Multiple myeloma is often thought of as a disease impacting older individuals, particularly older white males,” Valerie Kobzej, the director of myeloma marketing at Celgene, said. “But if you look at the data, African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease.”
To put it another way, take a million white Americans, and 75 men and 45 women will be diagnosed with myeloma. For African Americans, those numbers more than double to 151 men and 112 women. Moreover, African Americans are afflicted at a younger age — on average, they’re about five years younger than whites at diagnosis.
Scientists don’t completely understand the reason for the racial discrepancy yet, but they have some ideas. People with the blood disorder called monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS) have a higher risk for developing myeloma, and African Americans are more than twice as likely than other races to develop MGUS. Another study found that more than one-third of African-Americans with these diseases carry the protein pP-7, an inherited risk factor for MGUS and myeloma.
We believe it’s really important that African American patients already diagnosed with myeloma know there is hope.
The positive news for African Americans with myeloma is they can do just as well as, if not better than, white Americans when they receive a timely diagnosis and proper treatment. And African Americans may have a biological tendency toward less aggressive forms of the disease. Unfortunately, African Americans are also more than 40 percent less likely to receive the type of care that white Americans receive.
African Americans have also had smaller improvements in survival over the past 40 years than have white Americans. This disparity in survival may be due to problems accessing the best therapies.
The myeloma burden and treatment gap among African Americans highlight the critical need for raising awareness and working toward equal access for treatments. It’s this sentiment that inspired Celgene to launch their Standing in the Gaap initiative.
“We believe it’s really important that African American patients already diagnosed with myeloma know there is hope,” Kobzej said.
Through the initiative, which includes a Facebook page and other online resources, Celgene hopes to work with historically black colleges and universities as well as the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus to bring multiple myeloma to the forefront of research and care. The campaign aims to educate people about how myeloma affects African Americans, improve the quality of their care and ultimately improve survival rates.
Learn more about the Standing the Gaap initiative on Facebook.