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Living with Myeloma

What Is The Difference Between Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma

As with most cancers, and really anything medical, there are a lot of multiple myeloma terms and vocabulary out there that you might not know from the beginning. Getting to know the definition of multiple myeloma terms will help with understanding information about the disease.

What Is Relapsed Multiple Myeloma?

It is often said that there is no cure for multiple myeloma, but it is treatable. At first, this can be confusing. An easy analogy is diabetes. Certain types of diabetes are incurable, but the person can live a normal life with regular insulin injections.

With multiple myeloma the problem is that no matter what treatment you use and not matter how well it works, chance are myeloma will come back at some time in the future. This is what relapsed myeloma means.

Relapsed myeloma means that multiple myeloma has returned. For example, I am currently MRD negative, which means that there is no detectable myeloma in my blood. When (if) my myeloma returns, we say that I have relapsed.

What Is Refractory Multiple Myeloma?

Refractory myeloma means that the myeloma stopped responding or does not respond to a particular treatment. For example, if a patient with multiple myeloma is taking Revlimid and that is working to keep their myeloma number low, but then the patient’s myeloma stops responding to Revlimid, then their myeloma is refractory to Revlimid. It is unlikely the body will ever respond to Revlimid again.

This is where the lines of multiple myeloma treatment comes in. If a patient has done one kind of treatment, but then needs to switch to another, then that is two lines of treatment. The lines of multiple myeloma treatment are important because they determine which treatments a patient can use. Some drugs, or trials are only approved for patients who have already undergone four lines of treatment, or whatever.

Other treatments like CAR-T are approved for relapsed/refractory myeloma, which basically means it can’t be the first treatment a patient tries.

About the Author

Brian is an expert on having multiple myeloma via first-hand knowledge as a patient but is not a doctor. Brian was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019. He has been living with it ever since. All information is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Check with your own doctor about your specific situation for medical advice.