New Zealand lacking best treatment options for blood cancer patients, warns Myeloma NZ

This story was originally published on the NZ Herald

Kiwis diagnosed with the country’s most common form of blood cancer are being put at unnecessary risk because they are not getting access to the best treatment options available, a support group warns.

Myeloma New Zealand chief executive Dr Ken Romeril, prompted by a new report released today looking at the burden of myeloma on society, says more needs to be done to ensure the 2,500 Kiwis living with myeloma have the same access to new life-changing myeloma treatments already available in other countries.

About 400 people are diagnosed with myeloma, a blood cancer affecting plasma cells typically found in bone marrow, and 180 people die from it each year. Symptoms include bone pain, bone fractures, anaemia, kidney damage and an increase in infections such as bacterial pneumonia and shingles.

“Although there have been great advances in the treatment of this complex disease in recent years, New Zealand still has relatively limited access to options in frontline, maintenance and relapsed myeloma treatment, creating a high unmet need in this country.”

Romeril called on the Government to improve funding and remove existing restrictions on proven innovative treatments for myeloma.

“There is a great opportunity to improve New Zealand survival rates, thanks to a surge in research and the development of new myeloma treatments over the past couple of decades.

“We hope that in the not too distant future, myeloma patients will be living well, with a good quality of life, and their illness managed as a chronic disease rather than a fatal one.”

Pharmac is currently considering funding several new myeloma treatments.

The new report, titled the Burden of Multiple Myeloma, found $46.3m is spent on myeloma each year due to direct costs on the healthcare system and indirect costs such as loss of productivity, loss of income, increase in taxpayer-funded benefits and loss of tax revenue to the Government.

Associate professor Richard Milne, who led the report, said new myeloma treatments being used overseas and others in the late stages of development could greatly improve a patient’s quality of life and extend it while reducing the economic burden on the healthcare system.

“Great gains in quality of life and overall survival could be achieved with the availability of new myeloma treatment options.”

The Government has already come under immense pressure this year for Pharmac to fund more cancer treatment drugs and make them more available to patients.