Australia, NZ has highest rates of myeloma

Sarah Wiedersehn

Australia and New Zealand have the world's highest rates of multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer that attacks the body's bone marrow, a study has found.

The research, published in the journal JAMA Oncology, confirms evidence the cancer is on the rise in Australia due to an ageing population.

The Leukaemia Foundation's national myeloma co-ordinator, Jo Beams, says there is no reason for alarm but the study highlights the need for greater awareness and more research on risk factors.

With the majority of multiple myeloma (MM) diagnoses in the over 60s, the incidence is expected to rise, Ms Beams says.

But there is still "more room" for research to understand the other factors influencing the rise in incidence of MM.

"The research in recent years has actually shown (MM) is much more complex than we thought," Ms Beams said.

"The key with myeloma outcomes is being diagnosed before it causes organ damage, to the bones to the kidneys in particular."

Researchers at the University of Washington analysed data from the Global Burden of Disease Study in 2016 to examine the burden of multiple myeloma.

The analysis showed Australasia topped the list of 21 world regions for the highest rate of multiple myeloma at 5.8 cases per 100,000 people, followed by North America and western Europe.

There were 138,509 cases of multiple myeloma worldwide in 2016, with the disease affecting 2.1 per 100,000 people.

Western Europe was the region with the most cases of myeloma for both sexes.

The analysis also showed the incidence of MM had risen significantly during the past two decades.

From 1990 to 2016, the global incidence of the disease increased by 126 per cent.

Population growth contributed to 40.4 per cent of the increase and ageing population contributed 52.9 per cent.

Ms Beams says the findings also highlight the importance of continuing to make the best treatments available to Australian patients faster to ensure survival rates continue to improve.

"Obviously better treatments are going to translate into better outcomes for people," Ms Beams said.

"In the last three decades, myeloma's had one of largest absolute increases in survival rates. That is really thankful to the better treatments that we've had been made available."