Long waiting lists challenge Italy’s progress in myeloma treatment

Despite progress in innovative drugs and treatments related to multiple myeloma in Italy, patients warn that long waiting lists in public health facilities still pose severe obstacles.

Multiple myeloma (MM) is a cancer that affects a particular type of bone marrow cells, the plasma cells, which are derived from B lymphocytes and are responsible for producing antibodies to fight infections.

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In Italy, it affects about 5,600 people annually and is the second most common blood cancer (10%) after lymphomas, with an increasing incidence (+126%). But survival rates are also increasing, reaching 52.1% in men and 53.6% in women, thanks to the introduction of new drugs for treatment.

However, access to treatment is not always easy when faced with long waiting lists at public health facilities, forcing people to turn to private facilities to get a diagnosis.

Pina C. (77) from Campania, a former professor diagnosed with multiple myeloma in July 2021, told EURACTIV Italy, “Thanks to the treatment I received, I’m better now”.

Although she lives in Calabria, the patient chose to have the necessary medical examinations in a private medical facility in Campania to investigate the origin of her bone pain.

She, therefore, avoided the long waiting lists in public health facilities in Calabria, where there is also a shortage of private health facilities.

Once she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, she could begin treatment at the Mater Domini Polyclinic in Germaneto, Calabria, near where she lives.

“The bone fractures caused by the myeloma have made all movements difficult, both at home and in the hospital”, she said.

Following chemotherapy, she is now undergoing consolidation therapy to strengthen her bones.

“I am going through a remission phase of the disease, thanks to the expertise of the doctors and the care I received”, she noted.

The role of the Recovery Fund

According to AIOM (the Italian Association of Medical Oncology), in 2020, multiple myeloma cases in Italy accounted for 1.5% (1,759 cases) of all cancers diagnosed in both women and men, with a fairly homogeneous incidence rate both in terms of regional distribution and trends over time.

The incidence of this type of cancer was stable overall, while mortality slightly decreased.

“The therapeutic scenario for multiple myeloma has been progressively enriched with innovative drugs and new therapeutic strategies”, Professor Pierfrancesco Tassone told EURACTIV.

Tassone coordinates a research group to develop innovative therapeutic strategies for treating human malignancies with a special interest in multiple myeloma at Catanzaro University.

“Thanks to the enormous progress in pre-clinical and clinical research, the treatment of multiple myeloma has significantly prolonged, over the past 10 years, the survival of affected patients and improved their quality of life”, Tassone added.

He also emphasised the “invaluable” support received from the AIRC Foundation for Cancer Research and its volunteers, without which the research project, involving several young researchers, “would not even have been possible” in Italy.

“The goal of definitive cure, at present, has not yet been achieved, but the rapid progress of the last few years makes it possible to foresee decisive results in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

He added that new biotechnological products such as CAR-T, bispecific antibodies, and next-generation immunoconjugates are revolutionising the treatment of multiple myeloma, opening up concrete new immunologic possibilities for long-term disease control.

“In Italy, thanks to a universalistic system, of which we should be proud, it is possible to access innovative treatments without distinction throughout the country”, the professor says.

However, “the complex and costly logistics of high-tech treatments, which often involve foreign laboratories, could put in crisis even a virtuous system for accessibility to treatments like the Italian one”.

According to Tassone, this is precisely one of the challenges to be overcome through the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRPR).

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

Read more with EURACTIV


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