Black patients with multiple myeloma have lower survival rates despite possibly easier-to-treat cancers, a likely result of socioeconomic conditions and limited access to quality medical care, researchers from USC’s Keck School of Medicine stated in a recent report.

Multiple myeloma is a form of blood cancer that affects plasma cells, an important component of the immune system found in bone marrow. The American Cancer Society estimates that 30,000 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and that nearly 13,000 patients will die from it.

Black patients are three times more likely to be diagnosed with that type of cancer and twice as likely to die from it than Whites of the same age and gender, according to Keck School researchers. In the past decade, new treatments for the disease have spurred a remarkable improvement in survival for myeloma patients, but those benefits have disproportionately increased survival rates for affected White patients, they said.

The USC researchers determined that poorer health outcomes for Blacks patients are linked to conditions other than cancer biology. Their study also identified new cancer gene mutations that are significantly more prevalent in Blacks, linking those genes to multiple myeloma for the first time and strongly supporting the need for a better understanding of the role of population

heterogeneity in cancer.

“There are clearly molecular differences between African American and Caucasian multiple myeloma cases, and it will be critical to pursue these observations to better improve clinical management of the disease for all patients,” said Dr. John D. Carpten, chair of Keck’s Department of Translational Genomics and senior author of the paper published in the journal PLoS Genetics.