Myeloma and COVID-19

COVID-19 has affected cancer treatment for many patients and blood cancer patients were among those who were placed in the most vulnerable category. A recent survey published by Myeloma UK revealed that 40% of patients have had their treatment changed in some way. Dr Majid Kazmi, Consultant Haematologist, at Private Care at Guy’s, explains how COVID-19 has affected myeloma treatment and explains some of the ways care has continued safely even at the peak of the pandemic.

Why are myeloma patients particularly vulnerable to COVID-19?

Myeloma can reduce your immune system’s ability to fight infection, and some treatments can further supress the immune system, so patients with active myeloma who are undergoing treatment are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. Patients who are in remission are also considered to be in the high-risk category.

At the peak of the pandemic myeloma patients were advised to shield. This meant avoiding all contact with anyone outside of their household. Now that we have past the peak of the pandemic shielding measures are beginning to be relaxed, but it is still important for patients to take extra care and follow the latest government advice, as well as the advice of their medical team.

How has treatment changed for myeloma patients?

For many patients we have adapted treatment plans, this has included the use of a wider variety of oral drugs that can reduce the number of hospital visits, whilst still providing safe and effective care. NICE have recently extended and expanded access to these therapies for the remainder of the year, which means patients can continue to access the treatment they need.

The impact of COVID-19 meant some treatments such as stem cell transplants had to be paused completely. Now that we have passed the peak of the pandemic these services have re-opened and access to these vital treatments are resuming.

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, we will continually review treatment plans with patients to ensure they can access the most effective treatment in the safest way.

What new measures are in place to keep patients safe?

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, we have introduced new measures that limit face-to-face contact and time in hospital. For example, where possible, consultations can now take place remotely, either by phone or video consultation and changes to treatment plans mean more patients can receive oral therapies at home.

We have also been able to continue to support patients during this time. Our Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) have remained central to providing this care. Our patient support groups have continued through video meetings, which has been greatly appreciated by many of our patients.

If you do need to come into hospital new measures are in place to keep you as safe as possible , this includes COVID-19 screening of all patients on arrival, the use of PPE including masks for both staff and patients, and periodic COVID-19 testing of staff to keep our environments safe.

How have patients with myeloma responded to COVID-19?

As we are learning more about COVID-19 and the impact on blood cancer patients, we are gaining further insight into how patients respond alongside their disease. While patients are extremely vulnerable, we have also seen patients who have recovered from COVID-19 whilst continuing with their cancer treatment. The more we learn, the more we will be able to support patients who may become unwell.

What next for myeloma treatment in a COVID-19 world?

Whilst the global pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on treatment plans, we are absolutely focussed on safely re-opening access to vital treatments and getting back to the important work of clinical trials, so that we can continue to progress treatment options for patients in the future.