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Understanding what matters most to people with multiple myeloma: a qualitative study of views on quality of life

Thomas R Osborne1*, Christina Ramsenthaler1, Susanne de Wolf-Linder1, Stephen A Schey2, Richard J Siegert3, Polly M Edmonds4 and Irene J Higginson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, King’s College London, London, UK

2 Department of Haematological Medicine, King’s College Hospital and King’s College London, London, UK

3 School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies and School of Rehabilitation and Occupational Studies, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand

4 Department of Palliative Care, King’s College Hospital, London, UK

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:496  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-496

Published: 9 July 2014



Multiple myeloma is an incurable haematological cancer that affects physical, psychological and social domains of quality of life (QOL). Treatment decisions are increasingly guided by QOL issues, creating a need to monitor QOL within clinical practice. The development of myeloma-specific QOL questionnaires has been limited by a paucity of research to fully characterise QOL in this group. Aims of the present study are to (1) explore the issues important to QOL from the perspective of people with multiple myeloma, and (2) explore the views of patients and clinical staff on existing QOL questionnaires and their use in clinical practice.


The ‘Issues Interviews’ were semi-structured qualitative interviews to explore the issues important to QOL in a purposive sample of myeloma patients (n = 20). The ‘Questionnaire Interviews’ were semi-structured qualitative interviews in a separate purposive sample of myeloma patients (n = 20) to explore views on existing QOL questionnaires and their clinical use. Two patient focus groups (n = 7, n = 4) and a focus group of clinical staff (n = 6) complemented the semi-structured interviews. Thematic content analysis resulted in the development of a theoretical model of QOL in myeloma.


Main themes important to QOL were Biological Status, Treatment Factors, Symptoms Status, Activity & Participation, Emotional Status, Support Factors, Expectations, Adaptation & Coping and Spirituality. Symptoms had an indirect effect on QOL, only affecting overall QOL if they impacted upon Activity & Participation, Emotional Status or Support Factors. This indirect relationship has implications for the design of QOL questionnaires, which often focus on symptom status. Health-service factors emerged as important but are often absent from QOL questionnaires. Sexual function was important to patients and difficult for clinicians to discuss, so inclusion in clinical QOL tools may flag hidden problems and facilitate better care. Patients and staff expressed preferences for questionnaires to be no more than 2 pages long and to include a mixture of structured and open questions to focus the goals of care on what is most important to patients.


Existing QOL questionnaires developed and validated for use in myeloma do not capture all that is important to patients and may not be well suited to clinical use.

Cancer; Oncology; Haematology; Multiple myeloma; Quality of life; Outcome assessment