Multiple Myeloma Cancer
Your blood is made up of different types of cells, including white and red blood cells. It also contains plasma. The plasma is in the bone marrow and has an important role in healthy immune system function. Multiple myeloma involves cancer of the plasma cells.
Multiple myeloma cancer is not a common cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, in the United States, a little over 32,000 people are diagnosed each year.
What happens in people that have multiple myeloma is cancer cells develop in the plasma, which crowds out healthy cells; plasma cells can no longer function as they should. Additionally, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins, which leads to the development of plasmacytomas, which are bone tumors. Several plasmacytomas develop, which is why the condition is called “multiple” myeloma.
Unfortunately, not everyone that has multiple myeloma develops symptoms early on. When symptoms do develop, they may include:
- Bone pain
- Mental fogginess
- Weakness in the legs
- Frequent infections
- Loss of appetite
The severity of symptoms may also vary. Some people only develop mild symptoms, while others may have significant symptoms and develop complications.
Some of the possible complications from multiple myeloma include:
- Decreased kidney function: the abnormal proteins may impair kidney function. In some cases, it leads to kidney failure.
- Frequent infections: because plasma cells play a role in the function of the immune system, when they are damaged, it inhibits the body’s ability to fight infection.
- Anemia: normal cells in the blood are crowded out, which may lead to blood problems, such as anemia.
Like many types of cancer, it is not clear what leads to multiple myeloma. According to the Mayo Clinic, multiple myeloma often starts with a condition referred to as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.
The condition causes the body to produce abnormal proteins. In most cases, the abnormal proteins do not cause any negative health effects. But it appears that people who develop monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance have an increased risk of developing multiple myeloma.
Additional factors have been identified that may increase a person’s risk of developing multiple myeloma, such as the following:
- Increased age: most people that develop multiple myeloma are over the age of 60.
- Sex: men are more likely to develop multiple myeloma than women.
- Family history: having a family history of multiple myeloma increases a person’s risk of developing the disease.
To make a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms, as well as perform a physical exam.
Additionally, certain diagnostic tests are performed to diagnose the condition. For example, blood tests are done to identify abnormal proteins in the body. A bone marrow biopsy also helps confirm a diagnosis. Imaging tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, may also be useful to detect damage to the bones associated with the disease.
Stages of Multiple Myeloma
Similar to other forms of cancer, there are different stages of multiple myeloma. Once a diagnosis of multiple myeloma is confirmed, staging is done. The stage of the disease may help the doctor determine the best cancer treatment.
Multiple myeloma is staged from stage 1 to stage 3. The staging is based on the amount of myeloma cells in the body, calcium and hemoglobin levels, as well as damage to the bones from the myeloma cells.
Stage 1: this stage of the disease is less aggressive and may only cause mild symptoms.
Stage 2: stage 2 is considered moderate disease, which may cause significant symptoms.
Stage 3: Stage 3 is the highest stage of multiple myeloma and indicates aggressive disease that may affect the bones and organs, such as the kidneys.
Multiple Myeloma Treatment
Not everyone with multiple myeloma requires treatment, especially at first. If symptoms are not present, treatment may not be needed.
According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, usually, multiple myeloma is not curable, but there have been advances in treatment in the last decade. While the condition is rarely cured, there are several ways to manage the disease. The following treatments may be recommended:
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer cells due to multiple myeloma. Different chemo drugs may be used in combination. Chemotherapy is administered intravenously or orally.
Bone Marrow Transplant
A bone marrow transplant involves using healthy marrow from a donor and transplanting it into a person with multiple myeloma. Prior to transplant, chemotherapy and radiation are administered to wipe out the marrow in the patient. Once the healthy marrow is transplanted, the hope is it will start creating new healthy marrow in the recipient.
Radiation involves using high energy beams directed at the cancer cells in specific parts of the body.
Targeted therapy medications are used to destroy cancer cells by blocking certain chemicals in the cells. The medications are usually administered intravenously.
The Bottom Line
The best course of treatment may depend on the stage of the disease and the severity of symptoms. In some cases, more than one treatment may be administered to treat multiple myeloma. It’s vital to weigh the benefits of treatment with the risks of side effects.
The prognosis for multiple myeloma varies depending on several factors, including the stage of the disease, age of the patient and tolerance to treatment.