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Do number of hospital appointments offer myeloma clue?

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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Updated 29 Nov 2019

Bloodwise funded researchers publish study exploring how unusual numbers of hospital visits could be an indicator of myeloma risk. 

We’ve known for some time that nearly every person who develops myeloma first gets a condition called MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance). 

While only about one in 100 people with MGUS go on to develop myeloma, identifying everyone with MGUS would enable the NHS to monitor them, helping them get diagnosed as quickly as possible if they do develop myeloma.

Searching for clues

But until now, it’s very difficult to know if someone has MGUS. This means that only a handful of people with it are diagnosed, and that often only happens by accident when doctors are testing for something else. Many people can live with MGUS and not experience significant health problems, however for some people there is a higher risk of infections, broken bones and some other disorders.

In a study funded by Bloodwise and CRUK, researchers at the University of York have found that the number of times a person has hospital appointments might offer a clue as to whether they have MGUS. The researchers took a group of people with MGUS and looked at how many times they’d been to an outpatient appointment in the three years before they were diagnosed, and compared this to the general population.

Their results, which they presented at last month’s National Cancer Research Institute Conference, showed that people with MGUS had an average of 3.7 outpatient appointments a year, compared to just 1.9 visits for the general population. This suggests that people with MGUS go to outpatient appointments almost twice as often as someone who doesn’t have it.

Looking further into the results, they found that frequency of some types of hospital appointments seem to be stronger predictors than others. For example; people with MGUS were over five times more likely to have an appointment for their kidneys.

Next steps

This is an exciting finding, and the next step will be to try to work out if it will be possible to develop a way of analysing hospital data to work out which people should be tested.

Being able to identify people as being at high risk of myeloma could be hugely important, because the sooner people with myeloma are diagnosed the better their chances of surviving. We know that over 80% of people with myeloma will survive for at least five years if they are diagnosed at the earliest stage; just 26% of people survive if they are diagnosed at advanced stage. Finding a way to get more people diagnosed early could be crucial for improving myeloma survival rates.

Hope for the future

Scientists are working to find ways to stop MGUS from developing into myeloma. If they can achieve this and can combine this with being able to identify everyone with MGUS, this could be the route to bringing an end to myeloma altogether.

This is a long-term aim and it is unlikely to happen in the next few years, but scientists think it’s achievable and represents an important step in the journey of beating myeloma. An important part of making this a reality is a better understanding of MGUS.

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