New Co-Pay Assistance Program Helps Fight Blood Cancer Disparities

According to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), nurses need to know that myeloma, a serious and often deadly blood cancer, affects a disproportionate number of African Americans. In fact, a recent article in the LLS newsletter, eNewsline, notes that this life-threatening disease is twice as prevalent among black Americans than white Americans, and no one knows why.

Nobody seems to know the exact cause of myeloma, either. What we do know is that myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells that starts in the marrow and erodes the bones. It is most common in people age 50 or older and is often referred to as “multiple myeloma” because it usually involves multiple sites in the body at the time of diagnosis. Symptoms can include bone pain, fatigue, anemia and recurrent infections.

Unfortunately, myeloma remains the most intractable blood cancer to cure, with just a 35% relative five-year survival rate in the United States. But the good news, LLS reports, is that doctors have begun making significant progress in treating and, in some cases, managing this difficult disease, thanks to a growing arsenal of new medications and therapies. Drugs such as bortezomib (Velcade®), thalidomide (Thalomid®) and lenalidomide (Revlimid®) have shown promise in achieving remission and improving survival rates for some patients.

Because these medicines are expensive, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has launched a new program to help myeloma patients who are having trouble affording their prescriptions. The LLS Co-Pay Assistance Program provides up to $5,000 annually for qualified patients, to help pay for prescription drug co-pays and health insurance premiums. Patients with private insurance and Medicare beneficiaries under Medicare Part B and/or Part D, Medicare Supplementary Health Insurance or Medicare Advantage are eligible if they meet the program’s income requirements. In addition to myeloma, funds are also available for patients with other types of blood cancer.

“Receiving a diagnosis of a blood cancer is overwhelming, and that devastating news can be compounded by an inability to afford the treatments,” says John Walter, president and CEO of LLS. “[Our organization] is trying to do what it can to help alleviate this burden for patients.”

Nurses can learn more about myeloma and other blood cancers at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Web site, Information about the LLS Co-Pay Assistance Program is available at