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Patients with multiple myeloma who have B Medicare coverage may be eligible for financial reimbursement for treatment with thalidomide.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer involving important immune (infection-fighting) cells called plasma cells. Plasma cells aid the body in fighting infection by producing specialized proteins called antibodies that have the ability to target and/or kill foreign cells. In multiple myeloma, cancerous plasma cells produce abnormal and excessive antibodies that do not have the ability to properly fight infection. In addition, the cancerous plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow, suppressing the normal formation and function of other cells that are necessary for normal production of blood cells and immune functions. The excessive accumulation of cancer cells in the bone marrow ultimately leads to the formation of tumors in the bone and to the breakdown of bone. Standard treatment for multiple myeloma depends upon the stage, or extent, of the disease. Treatment for newly diagnosed patients with multiple myeloma may consist of the steroid dexamethasone; chemotherapy; a combination of a steroid and chemotherapy; monitoring of the disease; or a stem cell transplant. More patients are also being treated with thalidomide for their disease, although clinical trials are ongoing in evaluation of thalidomide as part of a treatment regimen for multiple myeloma.

Thalidomide is a substance known for its anti-angiogenesis properties, as well as its effects on the immune system to help fight cancer. Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels in the body and is a crucial component for the development of cancer. Blood vessels are needed to supply cancer cells with essential nutrients from the blood. Anti-angiogenesis is the inhibition of the formation of new blood vessels. By stopping blood vessels from forming, cancer cells are “starved” of nutrients, ultimately inhibiting cancer development and growth. Researchers now believe that the effects of thalidomide on other immune properties may play just as important of a role against cancer as angiogenesis. Previous clinical studies have demonstrated that thalidomide achieves significant anti-cancer responses in patients with recurrent multiple myeloma and clinical trials are ongoing to determine its true clinical role in the treatment of multiple myeloma, as well as its effects on the immune system in fighting cancer.

Patients with multiple myeloma who are being treated with thalidomide may now be eligible for reimbursement of treatment under Medicare Part A and Part B, section 641 demonstration projection. To apply for thalidomide reimbursement, patients can call 1-866-563-5386 to have an application sent, (TTY users should call 1-866-563-5387), or patients can go to to fill out an application online.

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