ASH 2015: A Cancer Community of Hope
I am writing this on the flight home to my new hometown of San Diego from the huge (25,000 people) ASH (American Society of Hematology) meeting in Orlando. Our Patient Power team from the U.S. and Europe shot what will become probably 60 video segments with experts and inspiring patients. After attending this annual meeting more than 10 times over the years, I was especially impressed this time with an overriding message of hope. What was great is that this was coming from all quarters: from patients living with the conditions discussed, from doctors, from PhD researchers, and from some really smart people within pharmaceutical companies.
In many conditions—not all—cancer seems to be “on the run.” In ones we cover in-depth, the news was especially good. First on the list is multiple myeloma: five new drugs were approved this past year and three in the past three weeks. They are effective, and new combinations are sure to have people living longer and better. Tangible Hope.
In chronic lymphocytic leukemia, several experts are starting to say “C stands for Cure,” and they believe it is achievable for many people soon. Their heads are spinning with all the progress in the past five years and the rapid acceleration now. There are several approved and near-term medicines that are pills and combinations that may knock CLL down and out. And if one medicine doesn’t work you, another new one probably will.
In myeloproliferative neoplasms, MPNs, there are several drugs in development and new formulations of old ones that may attack the cancer in new ways and give people a real shot at a longer, fuller life.
In the lymphomas, from indolent follicular lymphoma to Hodgkin lymphoma to many other subtypes, many, many studies are showing progress.
In CML, where imatinib (Gleevec) years ago was the poster child for hope of a universal cancer “magic bullet,” patients continue to do well with that therapy and others that have followed. And some of my friends who have stopped therapy after knocking CML down to undetectable levels continue to fare well. While the success of single pills is less dramatic or not achievable in more complicated cancers like the ones above, the full and long life that many people with CML now lead is the near-term promise in several other blood cancers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about cost of new therapies. They are very expensive. And long-term use of them may not be affordable for insurance companies, Medicare, individuals or our society. That’s why experimental combinations of even expensive medicines, used relatively short-term, may be the answer; no long-term sustained cost, just big guns to defeat the wily cancer cell once and for all. Again, a message echoed throughout the halls: hope.
As someone living with CLL and myelofibrosis, I was really heartened. I am flying home feeling pretty confident and calm and looking forward to how stories of meaningful progress roll out during 2016.
Please take a look out our continuing flow of educational and inspiration videos for your health condition and share them with others. We are on point to bring you continued messages of hope.
Happy holiday season and wishing you and your family the best of health!
Andrew is the author of the new book The Web-Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis. He is a respected medical journalist and 15-year leukemia survivor. He founded healthtalk.com and patientpower.info and has hosted almost 3,000 online talk shows for patients with chronic conditions and cancers. Many of America's leading medical centers support ...