Although myeloma is regarded as incurable, recent advances make it very treatable. But these advances are not accessible to everyone who needs them.
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Martin Venderwood: Sheila Diprose of Calgary has advanced multiple myeloma. It's a rare progressive and fatal blood cancer. Sheila a wife, mother, and grandmother was diagnosed in 2007. Sheila Diprose: My first reaction when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma was most definite shock, unbelief, as it can't happen to me type of attitude, why me and why this type of cancer? Martin Venderwood: According to most recent Canadian Cancer Society statistics of the approximately 6,000 Canadians with the disease, about 1,350 will die this year and 2,100 new patients will be diagnosed across Canada. Although, the disease is regarded as incurable, recent advances make it very treatable and the prognosis continues to improve. Dr. Christine Chen is a hematologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. She describes how a new advance in treatment on oral therapy called Revlimid increases overall survival and slows disease progression in many patients, but it's not accessible to everyone who needs it. Dr. Christine Chen: It's very important to have new treatments in myeloma, particularly because it is not curable at this point and most patients in the course of the illness will require many different treatments. There are two large randomized trials that were published in 2007 using Revlimid in combination with dexamethasone steroid compared to just dexamethasone alone which is considered standard treatment for relapsed myeloma. Both those studies show not only did the Revlimid group have a higher response rate, but it kept the disease away longer. So progression free survival was longer and also an update to that study showed that patients receiving Revlimid also live longer. Martin Venderwood: John Lemieux is President of Myeloma Canada, a national nonprofit group supporting people living with this disease. John Lemieux: The Time to Live Campaign is critical. In October 2008, Health Canada approved a new multiple myeloma medication drug that is going to extend patients’ lives. Till date not a single province has approved access on a universal basis. When you have a fatal cancer, life expectancy is measured in months, and sometimes in days. Martin Venderwood: Sheila Diprose hopes that one day other people living with multiple myeloma will have access to treatments such as Revlimid, but due to the nature of the disease timing is critical. Sheila Diprose: I didn’t have access to Revlimid which left me really upset. I didn’t know that it is there and for whatever reason presumably financially, I could not access that drug and I know that, that is quite likely to happen to other people. I have had a good look at life and I am very confident that Revlimid will work for me and at least extend the number of years that I have. Martin Venderwood: For more information about multiple myeloma visit www.myelomacanada.ca. Martin Venderwood reporting.