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Brokaw's Cancer Incurable, But Treatable

February 12, 2014, 6:08 PM by Brady Mallory

Brokaw's Cancer Incurable, But Treatable

Multiple Myeloma is a serious disease, but Dr. Jonathan Bleeker, a hematologist and oncologist with Sanford Health, said it helps to think of it as a cancer you can live with, rather than one you will die from.

"Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, this is a much different outlook than we talked about back then," Bleeker said.

Doctors have been working to make multiple myeloma a chronic disease.  Patients diagnosed with it live for an average of seven years with the disease.  Many live longer, according to the American Cancer Society.  Tom Brokaw recently announced he was diagnosed back in August at Mayo Clinic.

"We think folks usually live with this disease or even a pre-cursor of it for years and years and years before they get diagnosed with myeloma," Bleeker said.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects blood cells in bone marrow.  Doctors do not know exactly what causes it, but many believe there could be a genetic or environmental link. Fatigue, kidney damage, and bone pain are some of the signs and symptoms you may notice.  In some cases, you may have bone fractures.  However, the symptoms vary, and may be hard to pinpoint.  There is not an easy screening system in place, so it often is not diagnosed until the patient is older.  It is very common in men over 50, and twice as common in African American men.

Bleeker said the quality of life for patients is high because the treatment is not as difficult as it is for other cancers.

"This is not your father's and grandfather's chemotherapy.  Often times it's pills you can take at home and meet with the doctor once a month.  Other times, you have to come in and see a doctor and get a shot once a week along with those pills," Bleeker said.

As one of the country's most-recognizable journalists, Brokaw now finds himself on the other side of the headlines.  However, Bleeker said Brokaw is still informing his audience.

"It gets it out there.  People will know about this disease, people will recognize it, and hopefully see him do very well," Bleeker said.

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