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Hope for Patients with Incurable Cancer

Multiple myeloma is an incurable cancer of the bone marrow that affects the production of blood cells. The cancer destroys bones, causes anemia and weakens the body's immune system. Now, there is hope for people with this disease.

Hardy Jones is one of 750,000 people around the world with multiple myeloma, one of the most difficult cancers to control. Doctors can extend the life of multiple myeloma patients with drugs that have evolved from thalidomide, a substance proven to cause birth defects in pregnant women.

The once-dangerous drug is giving new hope to patients such as Paul Nicholss. "I've really have been able to get my life back. I'm running again. I've got far more energy than I've had in the last three years,” Nicholss said. “I can't overemphasize the fact that I feel so much more normal."

Two drugs -- Revlimid and Thalomid -- the newest generation of thalidomide, are helping patients with multiple myeloma. Hardy Jones takes Thalomid. “I started taking Thalomid immediately after diagnosis, and I was monitoring, of course, my blood numbers, and the impact was astonishing,” Jones said. “It brought the amount of myeloma in my system down by 97 percent within six weeks."

These new medications extend patients' lives without the side effects of chemotherapy. Dr. Brian Durie, head of the International Multiple Myeloma Foundation, said, "The use of these targeted agents such as Thalomid and Revlimid has had a profound impact. A disease which was fatal in the past now has been converted into a disease which in many cases is a chronic disease.” He said, “Patients are living longer. Patients are living five years, 10 years, 15 years --which was really unheard of in the past."

Dr. Durie says medical science is on the threshold of transforming a terminal cancer into a disease that can be controlled for long periods of time.

The International Multiple Myeloma Foundation says people of African descent seem to be more susceptible to multiple myeloma. However, reliable statistics about the disease in sub-Saharan Africa are not available. Physicians in central and eastern Europe are seeing a sharp rise in multiple myeloma patients, as are physicians in China. The International Multiple Myeloma Foundation says there appears to a connection between multiple myeloma and pollution caused by industrialization.