The Personal Health columnist Jane Brody recently wrote about advances in the care of multiple myeloma in “Cancer Survival Demands Steady Progress.”
Here, Dr. Philip Greipp, director of the Cancer Center Hematologic Malignancies Program at the Mayo Clinic, responds to readers’ questions about the potentially deadly blood-related cancer.
Q. My mom died of this disease at age 77 and it was horrible. She was gone within nine months of diagnosis and had been healthy (her mom lived to 103). She had been a lifelong smoker up to age 65 and took birth control pills. Could the smoking and birth control pills have caused the myeloma?
Jeff, Salt Lake City
A. Dr. Philip Greipp responds:
This question points out one of the most significant developments in myeloma: that it is not one disease, but many diseases. We are only now beginning to identify groups of patients by the genes and chromosomes of their myeloma cells.
Your mom may have had a more aggressive myeloma. We now know that such patients need more intensive and, more importantly, continuous therapy to achieve a better quality and duration of response.
We do not know what causes myeloma. There is some suggestion that a number of factors in the environment may play a role, but there is contradictory evidence to support most claims. There is no suggestion that smoking or birth control pills play a role.
NY Times, Consults Blog, 4/14/2010