Brokaw Diagnosis: What is Multiple Myeloma?

NBC News’ Tom Brokaw, 74, revealed this week he has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. The disease, also known as plasma cell myeloma, will be diagnosed in more than 24,000 Americans this year.

Multiple myeloma develops when the body makes too many plasma cells. As these excess plasma cells build up, tumors form in bones or soft tissue. These abnormal plasma cells also prevent the body from making enough healthy red and white blood cells.

Although some patients have no symptoms, signs of multiple myeloma can include bone pain (often in the back or ribs), bones that break easily, fever, frequent infections, easy bruising or bleeding, trouble breathing, weakness of the arms or legs, and fatigue. The disease can be treated using various chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy, as well as stem cell transplants.

(From L-R) Ken Anderson, MD, Paul Richardson, MD, and Nikhil Munshi, MD
(From L-R) Ken Anderson, MD, Paul Richardson, MD, and Nikhil Munshi, MD

Multiple myeloma has become a more manageable illness thanks to the efforts of doctors and researchers, including groundbreaking work at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. New therapies developed by Ken Anderson, MD, Paul Richardson, MD, Nikhil Munshi, MD, and others, have improved treatments and survival rates for patients.

In addition to these recent advances, Richardson, Anderson, Munshi and their colleagues continue multiple myeloma research through dozens of clinical trials.

“Recent developments with novel, biologically-targeted therapies and improvements with stem cell transplantation for younger patients have resulted in a very encouraging trend for improved survival in multiple myeloma patients overall,” says Richardson, clinical director for the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center Jerome Lipper Center for Multiple Myeloma, and the R.J. Corman Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.  “The disease remains very challenging, but new studies and research point to longer remissions and better quality of life for this otherwise incurable hematologic malignancy.”

For more information, visit our Multiple Myeloma Program website