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Multiple Myeloma Prognosis: What You Need To Know

Posted on July 23, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Maureen McNulty

If your doctor diagnoses you with multiple myeloma, they may also estimate your prognosis. Your prognosis, or outlook, describes how likely it is that your myeloma will progress (get worse). Doctors may use prognosis to help determine a treatment plan.

Multiple Myeloma Survival Rates

The five-year survival rate for multiple myeloma in the United States is 55.6 percent. This means that around 55 out of 100 people will live for five years or more after being diagnosed with myeloma.

People diagnosed with very early-stage myeloma have better survival rates. About 4 percent of people are diagnosed when their myeloma is localized to one small area. This may be called a solitary plasmacytoma (plasma cell tumor). Around 77.5 percent of people diagnosed with solitary plasmacytoma live for at least five years after diagnosis.

Survival Rates Are Improving

The five-year survival rate for myeloma has improved in the past few decades. From 1975 to 2005, myeloma survival rates improved by about 2 percent every two years. Since 2005, survival rates have increased even more rapidly.

The discovery of new types of treatments has boosted survival rates within the past couple of decades. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several new drugs for myeloma in recent years. Progress is continuing. In 2020, the FDA approved three new myeloma drugs and several new regimens (combinations of medications). Thus far in 2021, the FDA has approved additional drugs and regimens, including a new type of cancer treatment that involves genetically engineering immune cells.

Current five-year survival rates were calculated using data from people diagnosed from 2011 to 2017. These survival rates don’t take into account the newest treatment options. People diagnosed with myeloma today may have a better prognosis than current data suggests.

Prognostic Factors

Survival rates are estimated based on the outcomes of large groups of people. They don’t tell you what your individual outlook will be. Your health care team can help you better understand your predicted outcome using prognostic factors — factors that are linked with a better or worse outcome. Several prognostic factors can tell you more about your outlook.

Age

Older adults with multiple myeloma tend to have worse prognosis than do younger adults:

  • Approximately 71.4 percent of people with multiple myeloma who are under the age of 50 live for five years or more after diagnosis.
  • Around 64.1 percent of those with the condition who are aged 50 to 64 live at least five years.
  • About 46.5 percent of people with the condition aged 65 or older live for five years or more.

Performance Status

Doctors use the term “performance status” to describe a person’s overall well-being. Karnofsky Performance Status Scale and ECOG (which stands for Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group) Scale of Performance are two performance scales, designed to measure how well a person functions. People who are better able to complete daily tasks and are more active are likely to have a positive prognosis.

Remission

When myeloma goes away after treatment, it is known as remission. A person may experience partial remission — when cancer improves but doesn’t completely go away — or complete remission, when all cancer signs disappear. A complete remission does not mean that the disease may not return. If myeloma quickly goes into complete remission following treatment, a positive long-term outcome is more likely.

Blood Tests

Certain molecules in the blood can be signs of inflammation, damage, or cancer. Having high blood levels of any of the following is linked to a worse prognosis:

  • Beta-2 microglobulin
  • Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
  • Creatinine
  • Calcium

On the other hand, having a high level of albumin protein in the blood is a sign of a better outcome.

Gene or Chromosome Changes

Doctors may test multiple myeloma cells to identify any changes to their chromosomes (long pieces of DNA that contain genes). Certain chromosome changes increase a person’s chances of having a poor outcome:

  • Deletion of all or part of chromosome 13
  • Deletion of part of chromosome 17
  • Amplification (copy) of part of chromosome 1
  • Chromosome translocations (part of one chromosome breaks off and abnormally attaches to another) between chromosome 14 and another chromosome

Researchers have also performed studies looking at how individual genes impact prognosis. Certain sets of genes can be found in cells at low or high levels, leading to a worse outlook.

Myeloma Stage

Myeloma prognosis is closely linked to myeloma stage. The stage describes how advanced the myeloma is and helps predict outcomes. People with higher stages of multiple myeloma have a poor prognosis.

There are two systems often used to stage multiple myeloma. The Durie-Salmon Staging System determines stage based on:

  • Levels of hemoglobin, used to measure anemia (low levels of red blood cells)
  • Calcium levels
  • Bone lesions (tumors)
  • Amount of monoclonal protein or M protein (an abnormal protein made by abnormal plasma cells)
  • Kidney function (how well the kidney is working)

A newer system, the Revised International Staging System, relies on gene changes and levels of beta-2 microglobulin, albumin, and LDH.

Plasma Cell Labeling Index

People who have faster-growing myeloma cells have a higher chance of having a poor outlook. A test called a plasma cell labeling index (PCLI) measures how fast myeloma cells divide. A higher PCLI score means that cancer cells are growing faster.

Serum Free Light Chain

Cancerous plasma cells make abnormal immunoglobulins (antibodies). Each immunoglobulin is made up of two heavy chain proteins and two light chain proteins. Cancerous plasma cells often make more light chains than are needed for making antibodies. Extra light chain proteins can be measured with a test called a serum free light chain (SFLC) assay.

People with a high SFLC score are likely to have a poor prognosis. SFLC can also be used to predict prognosis in people who have milder forms of plasma cell disorders, such as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (or MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. People with these conditions are more likely to develop multiple myeloma if they have a high SFLC.

Number of Abnormal Plasma Cells

Those who have higher numbers of abnormal plasma cells in their bone marrow are likely to have a worse disease course.

Neighborhood

In one study, researchers found that people who lived in lower-income neighborhoods had a higher chance of having a poor outcome.

Being Treated By a Specialist

As many as 80 percent of people with myeloma are diagnosed in community hospitals. However, people who are treated in community hospitals have worse outcomes. Prognoses are better for people treated in academic hospitals or in places that are a part of a network of cancer facilities.

Treatment Plan

Certain multiple myeloma treatments have a higher chance of success. People who have an autologous stem cell transplant — which uses a person’s own stem cells — are likely to have a better prognosis. However, stem cell transplants can lead to serious side effects, and the myeloma usually comes back in a few years. Allogeneic stem cell transplants — which use stem cells from a donor — can also be used, but they have more potential side effects. Stem cell transplantation is often not an option for people who are older or are in worse health. Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (or CAR-T cell therapy) is approved in the United States for relapsed or refractory myeloma.

Other treatments also improve prognosis. Traditionally, people with multiple myeloma received chemotherapy as a first-line treatment. Recent studies have found that using newer medications as a first-line treatment leads to better outcomes.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with multiple myeloma and their loved ones. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 10,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple myeloma.

Are you living with multiple myeloma? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. Learn more about her here.

A MyMyelomaTeam Member said:

I agree Maynard1937. That wasn't very encouraging and contrary to some stats have read and stories shared here.

posted about 6 hours ago

hug

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