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For all the recent advances in treating multiple myeloma, scientists have only inched forward in finding ways of screening or intervening early for the disease. Where the discovery of a polyp or a lump might avert progress of colon or breast cancer, blood cancer clinicians have few ways to treat patients who are on the cusp of developing cancer.

“We wait, wait, and wait until people get cancer and have, like, organ damage,” said Irene Ghobrial, a hematologist-oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Then we treat. But if we can reverse that and think of early detection — detecting it before people get it — could I completely cure myeloma? Can I prevent a whole cancer from happening? We have amazing drugs that work. We shouldn’t just wait.”


There’s just one problem. In order to intervene early for a patient, you have to know who will actually get cancer in the future or currently has a nascent form of it. That’s exceedingly difficult for blood cancers. Scientists don’t even know what causes many of them, and they can remain in a silent, asymptomatic stage for years. So, scientists like Ghobrial are embarking on long and intensive trials, using new technology and methods to study a precursor condition to myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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