As COVID-19 restrictions lift, Leukaemia Foundation prepares for spike in Myeloma cases

Posted on May 18, 2020, 10:31 am

AS COVID-19 restrictions ease around the country, the Leukaemia Foundation is bracing for a steep rise in the number of Australians living with the blood cancer myeloma now and into the future.

“Now that restrictions are beginning to lift, we’re expecting myeloma case numbers will increase as more Australians seek health check-ups and, in the process, potentially receive the devastating news that they actually have this blood cancer and may not have recognised the symptoms,” said Leukaemia Foundation General Manager of People Living with Blood Cancer Kathryn Huntley.

“While the immediate rise in myeloma case numbers we anticipate is a result of the impact social distancing has had on health-seeking behaviours, sadly this forecast compounds with what our research revealed before the COVID-19 crisis began – which is that myeloma diagnosis rates are projected to more than double in the next 15 years.

“The reality is that blood cancer doesn’t stop – even for pandemics – and Australia is facing a future where blood cancers like myeloma will be more prevalent than ever before.”

This Myeloma Awareness Month, the Leukaemia Foundation is hosting free virtual educational webinars across Australia as it commits to raising awareness of this major blood cancer group.

Around 18,000 Australians are currently living with myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma. It is a complex and relatively rare blood cancer affecting the body’s plasma cells, which produce antibodies. Myeloma develops when plasma cells undergo a cancerous change and multiply at an increasing rate, taking over the bone marrow.

Myeloma most commonly occurs in people aged 40 and older, and it is slightly more prevalent in men. Patients experience weaker bones which are more prone to breaking, as well as bone pain, kidney damage, frequent infections, anaemia and increased bleeding and bruising.

Currently, 2,074 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year, however it is expected 4,952 people will be diagnosed with this type of blood cancer in 2035. Sadly, 1,098 Australians already lose their life to myeloma each year, and this figure is projected to increase to 3,037 people by 2035.

“While treatment options and survival rates for some blood cancers are improving, the sad reality is that myeloma is not curable, and the impact of a diagnosis of myeloma on peoples’ lives and the ongoing affect to their health remains severe,” said Ms Huntley.

“That is why the Leukaemia Foundation is committed to empowering Australians living with myeloma with access to the best information, support, treatment and care so they can manage its impacts and live well with their blood cancer.

“The Leukaemia Foundation has also invested almost $3.1 million into myeloma research projects currently underway at some of Australia’s leading research centres. These aim to develop better diagnostics and a range of new and targeted therapies, which could lead to improvements in quality of life.”

There are eight research projects within the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program focused on better understanding and treating myeloma. In the past year alone, the Leukaemia Foundation has also advocated for increased access to six treatment options for myeloma patients through submissions made to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee which draw on the lived experiences of Australians living with myeloma.

Ms Huntley said she recognised and appreciated how difficult recent months have been on all Australians living with blood cancer, including those living with myeloma, in the challenging COVID-19 environment.

“We have been experiencing a spike in enquiries from Australians living with blood cancer wanting support and information on accessing their treatment, managing their infection risk and overall emotional support in this distressing time,” she said.

“Our Blood Cancer Support Coordinators have been supporting these Australians by finding new ways to connect with them and reminding them that we stand together and will always be their someone-to-turn to.”

Ms Huntley said this year’s webinars had been designed around addressing topics personally selected by Australians living with myeloma.

“We surveyed Australians living with myeloma, we listened, and we are proud to be delivering webinars specifically focused around their top three chosen topics. This includes webinars on exercise and fatigue, psychosocial and emotional wellbeing, as well as a clinical overview of the disease and latest treatments,” she said.

The free myeloma webinars available this month will feature myeloma specialists and people with lived experience. For more information visit www.leukaemia.org.au/disease-information/myeloma/national-myeloma-month-2020.

The Leukaemia Foundation provides free practical, emotional and educational support to Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer including myeloma. The Leukaemia Foundation produces a series of disease specific newsletters including Myeloma News, and invites all Australians living with the disease to subscribe to ongoing information here.