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Leukaemia Foundation prepares for spike in myeloma cases ahead of COVID-19 restrictions lifting

Wednesday 13 May, 2020

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.[1]

“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 14,400 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.

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.


[1] this document with ReadSpeaker docReader

Leukaemia Foundation National Research Program – Myeloma 

Active research projects focused on beating myeloma and improving quality of life for Australians living with myeloma currently funded by the Leukaemia Foundation include:

  • Four projects through the Leukaemia Foundation’s Strategic Ecosystem Research Partnership specifically focused on tackling myeloma. This includes a research consortium working to identify new markers of myeloma cancer cell dormancy that will be used to specify which types of treatments are likely to have the most favourable clinical outcomes for myeloma patients, and to develop a diagnostic test to identify the indolent stages of myeloma, called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), and smoldering myeloma (SM). It also includes a project to develop lead drug candidates to be tested in combination with existing myeloma therapies, another involving deep profiling of myeloma for targeted therapies, and another to develop a single test which can identify mutations in more than 60 clinically relevant genes at the same time in myeloma.
  • A project through the NHRMC Centre for Blood Transplant and Cell Therapy to help achieve better outcomes for graft verses host disease occurring in individuals who have undergone an allogenic stem cell transplant
  • A project underway through the Leukaemia Foundation’s Translational Research Program, co-funded with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (U.S.) and Snowdome Foundation. The project uses a new approach to identify and test drugs that can block the growth of myeloma cells.
  • PhD scholarships for the brightest medical and science graduates to pursue a research career in blood cancer, in collaboration with the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand. This research includes a project to explore Immunoglobin (antibody) therapy to prevent and treat infections in myeloma patients, to ultimately lead to a better standard of care.
  • Funding two early career researchers in the field of myeloma through Cancer Australia’s Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme to explore options to enhance the delivery of myeloma therapies while decreasing side-effects, and to identify patients at high risk of developing smoldering myeloma to enable early treatment.

Leukaemia Foundation advocacy – Myeloma 

Medicine which the Leukaemia Foundation has actively advocated for increased access to in the past year includes:

  • Daratumumab – as part of a combination therapy for relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma, and as a monotherapy for highly treatment experienced and refractory patients.
  • Lenalidomide – as maintenance treatment for multiple myeloma following autologous stem cell transplant and as a streamlined authority prescription and part of a combination therapy for newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients who are ineligible for primary stem cell transplant.
  • Denosumab – for treatment of patients with multiple myeloma who have renal impairment.
  • Pomalidomide – as part of a combination therapy for patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma who have received at least one prior treatment regimen.
  • Plitidepsin – as part of a combination therapy for the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma who meet certain conditions.
  • Carfilzomib – as a streamlined authority prescription and to amend the drug’s recommended dosing regimen and dosing levels.

Last updated on June 15th, 2022

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.