Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of the blood that affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. Plasma cells target germs and fight them as part of the body’s immune system.
This cancer begins in the bone marrow where the plasma cells are created. Unlike most other cells in the body, plasma cells do not die off after they mature. When abnormal cells begin to grow in the bone marrow the healthy cells are eventually pushed out. This leads to the inability to fight off infections.
Multiple myeloma cells continue to form and produce antibodies to fight off illnesses, but the myeloma cells produce abnormal antibodies. These abnormal antibodies can build up in the kidneys and cause damage. Cancer cells can also cause damage to the bones.
Statistically, most multiple myeloma patients are diagnosed in their mid-sixties. People with a family history of the illness are more likely to develop multiple myeloma than those without it. Males are more likely to develop the illness than women. The illness is twice as likely to develop in African Americans than in Caucasians.
Patients who have been previously diagnosed with a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) have an elevated risk of developing multiple myeloma. This condition is related to the development of certain proteins in the blood known as M-proteins. These proteins are developed by abnormal plasma cells.
In MGUS, the presence of these proteins in the blood is much lower. Unlike multiple myeloma, MGUS is considered a relatively minor condition that causes no damage to the rest of the body. However, the presence of this condition raises the likelihood of developing this cancer.
Multiple myeloma manifests in a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can include decreased appetite, mental confusion or fogginess, bone pain in the chest or the spinal areas, leg weakness or numbness, fatigue, weight loss, and frequent infections. Patients may also experience certain digestive issues like nausea, constipation, and excessive thirst.
A diagnosis of multiple myeloma is sometimes made by accident. Analysis of blood tests for other concerns sometimes reveals the presence of abnormal proteins in the blood prompting the doctor to seek further tests.
These tests include further blood tests to check the condition of the kidneys. Other blood tests check calcium levels, uric acid levels, and blood cell counts. Bone marrow biopsies, urine tests, and imaging tests may also be ordered to check the progression of the disease.
After a diagnosis is determined, the condition will be classified according to the progression and severity. Multiple myeloma is graded as high, intermediate, or standard risk.
Some multiple myeloma patients require no treatment depending on the severity of their condition. Patients who are not experiencing symptoms may be able to delay treatment. At this point, the condition will be monitored by regular tests. If the disease begins to progress, treatment will be ordered.
Like most cancers, multiple myeloma is treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Other treatments include targeted drug therapy. These medications cause abnormal proteins to break down and begin to die. Other forms of drug treatment include biological treatments that enable the body’s immune system to fight off cancer. Corticosteroids are also used to reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system.
Some patients may be able to receive a bone marrow transplant to fight multiple myeloma. A bone marrow transplant may help replace diseased marrow and regrow healthy tissue. Before the transplant is performed, the patient will be given a high dose of chemotherapy in order to destroy the bad bone marrow.
Multiple myeloma may cause several complications including bone pain, anemia, bone loss, kidney issues, and infections.
Radiation therapy, surgery, and pain medications may be used to treat bone pain. Certain medications may be prescribed to treat bone loss. Some vaccines can be given to help prevent severe infections.
Anemia occurs when the body does not produce enough red blood cells. Symptoms of anemia include difficulty with blood clotting, heart issues, fatigue, and a pale appearance. Anemia can be treated with various therapies if the condition becomes severe.
This form of cancer can cause severe damage to the kidneys and reduce kidney function. For patients with severe kidney disease, dialysis may be ordered to treat the damage.
Right now, there is no known cure for this blood cancer. Treatments can slow the progression of the condition. Sometimes, treatment for the disease can cause the symptoms to disappear altogether.
There are some steps patients can take to help improve their well-being during treatment. These steps include eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and getting adequate rest. Patients may also find support groups and other forms of therapy beneficial.
Many patients will continue to live for many years with little complications. For some, the disease may progress more quickly.