WEDNESDAY, Sept. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A cancer drug that targets the immune system may help improve the outlook for older adults with multiple myeloma, though a stem cell transplant remains the standard of care for relatively younger patients.
Those are some of the findings from two studies in the Sept. 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that begins in certain white blood cells. In the United States, it accounts for about 1 percent of cancers, and for those who develop it, it's often deadly. About 45 percent of Americans with the disease are still alive five years after diagnosis, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
For years, the standard treatment -- at least for patients younger than 65 -- has involved removing blood-forming stem cells from the patient's bone marrow or bloodstream, then using high-dose chemo to kill off the myeloma cells. Afterward, the stored stem cells are infused back into the patient, where they aid in recovery.
That extends people's cancer remission, but it's not a cure, said Dr. David Avigan, who treats myeloma patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
In the past five to 10 years, Avigan said, "novel drugs" have arrived on the market, and in studies they've sent some patients into complete remission.
"That's raised the question, are transplants still needed?" said Avigan, who wrote an editorial published with the studies. "Or can you get everything you want with these newer drugs? That's an important question, and one that patients often ask."
The answer, based on one of the new studies, is that transplants remain the best option for patients younger than 65. (Because transplants carry substantial risks, they aren't usually done in older or sicker patients.)
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