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Is Maintenance Therapy Necessary for MRD-Negative Myeloma Patients?

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Published on April 25, 2019

Patient Power community member Valerie writes in, “If I’m declared MRD-negative, is there still a need to take maintenance therapy indefinitely?” Myeloma expert Dr. Elisabet Manasanch, from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, responds bygiving an expert perspective on myeloma care after treatment and current evidence-based research on patients who achieve MRD-negative status. Dr. Manasanch also explains the risks involved with stopping a maintenance regimen and potential for relapse. Watch now to find out more. 

This is a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power in partnership with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. We thank AbbVie, Inc., Celgene Corporation, and Sanofi for their support.

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Transcript | Is Maintenance Therapy Necessary for MRD-Negative Myeloma Patients?

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:                     

So, Valerie wrote in. She said, “If I’m declared MRD-negative, is there still a need to take maintenance therapy indefinitely?” So, Doctor, do you want to take that one? 

Dr. Manasanch:          

So, the first thing is that my first inclination to that answer is, right now, we’re November 19, 2018. 

So, as of November 19, 2018, today, yes, you have to continue, even if you are MRD-negative because being MRD negative, all it means is that the test cannot find the cells. But we have a problem in myeloma. We have a big problem in myeloma. And in myeloma, we really cannot seem to cure it, for most patients. Which means we cannot get rid of it. It’s still there. So, our worry, when patients come out of therapy, especially if they’re doing well with their therapy, right, it doesn’t have a lot of side effects, and they want to come off of it just to come off of it or because you’re MRD negative, the problem is, okay, what’s going to happen. 

So, I actually had plenty of patients to where complete remissions, MRD negative by our flow cytometry, and I’ve taken them off therapy because they’re older patients. And this is relapse because there’s really, it’s the discussion because they’re coming, and they’re not doing well.

They get admitted. They have infections. They are not doing well. So, then, okay, well, everything looks good. Let’s give a break. And the myeloma comes back. And then, you treat it again, and it goes into another remission. And then, it comes back again. So, being minimal residual disease negative, in relapsed myeloma, you still need to treat it.

Andrew Schorr:          

Okay. There’s an elephant in the room here, though. Cherie, so with this 10 to the 6, you’re negative. The most sensitive test available. You’ve had the leading edge of treatment, CAR T, and yet, you’re hearing the doctor say we don’t think we are able to cure myeloma and that it may come back. So, you’re hearing this. What are you thinking?

Cherie Rineker:           

Well, I belong to a CAR-T Facebook group. And, sadly, there are people who have relapsed.

There are people that have passed since relapse. And I have pretty severe post-traumatic stress syndrome, from everything that I’ve gone through from the many relapses. And so, I’ve noticed the further out I get, the worse my anxiety is getting actually not being on any treatment. So, hearing this, again, I feel that, at this point, maybe I want to go on maintenance. But I think it would disqualify me for the trials. And I want to be part of helping the CAR T research. At the same time, I can’t fathom the thought of having to go through another relapse.  

And for me, even though the numbers are really small in the end, the plasmacytoma 9 centimeter, which popped out of nowhere, within a month, the cancer was so aggressive. So, would you recommend, doctor, that I should pursue a maintenance regimen?

Andrew Schorr:          

But you’re in the trial though to see how long it lasts though, too.

Cherie Rineker:           

Yeah.

Dr. Manasanch:          

Well, I think I’m just going to comment on this. First of all, I think Andrew’s question, so this maintenance usually applies to newly diagnosed patients, right. But I made my case with relapse because what happens, newly diagnosed patients, usually, the therapists we have now are so good. Most of the patients do really well, right. I think that this is the main thing of the webinar is patients with myeloma do really well right now. I think this has to be that, most patients do, okay? Once the myeloma has come back, and it has come back a few times, it just takes less time to come back. 

So, my experience with doing minimal residual disease testing has been that. You can have somebody who has relapsed myeloma who is MRD-negative. That does not mean that they’re always going to stay like that. But that also doesn’t mean it has to com back. I’m just saying that it can be either way. But for maintenance like after transplant or maintenance after your initial treatment, when you’re doing just continuous therapy, probably the right thing to do is to continue, even if you’re negative, continue that therapy because we really don’t know.

We don’t have data. There are studies now where, if you are MRD-negative, they stop the therapy. And if you’re positive, they continue. Right? And, in fact, you’re negative, some patients stop, some continue. So, basically, we’re going to see, in the next few years, if you can stop it, if you’re MRD-negative, if you can stop the maintenance. But right now, there’s no evidence, specifically, for your case, after CAR T. There is no evidence, right now, that starting therapy will make it last longer. So, probably , you don’t have to do anything. But for the newly diagnosed patients who go on the maintenance, they’re negative. 

Basically, that’s not affecting how we treat. It’s just an information. 

It seems like that’s a very good prognostic factor. But whether we have to stop the maintenance, that’s up in the air. And for most patients, I would probably say don’t stop it. Continue it. until we have at least some studies saying that, okay, if you’re negative, you can safely stop it.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.