Multiple Myeloma is a type of cancer affecting plasma cells, which are found in the bone marrow and make up an important part of the body’s immune system. These specialized cells make antibodies vital to help attack germs in the body. It is important to note there are a few other conditions affecting the plasma cells that do not meet criteria to be considered myeloma.
Signs and Symptoms
Patients with multiple myeloma often have low blood counts because the cancerous plasma cells growing out of control can crowd out other normal types of blood cells. Low counts of red blood cells, otherwise known as anemia, may occur. Patients may also have low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), which can cause easy bruising, or leukopenia (low white blood cell counts), which can affect the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Patients with multiple myeloma may also have difficulty keeping their bones strong and experience fractured bones due to dissolving of the bones at a higher than normal rate. Some patients also experience kidney problems due to an antibody created by the myeloma that is harmful to kidney cells.
Most people diagnosed with multiple myeloma are over the age of 65, and this type of cancer has been shown to affect men more often than women. Myeloma is twice as common in African Americans. Being overweight and having other plasma cell conditions can increase one’s risk of developing multiple myeloma.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Early detection of multiple myeloma is difficult, as the early symptoms can be vague and resemble other conditions. There are a few common symptoms for multiple myeloma:
- bone issues (fractures, bone pain)
- low blood counts
- high levels of calcium in the blood
- nervous system changes (numbness, tingling)
- infections that are slow to respond to treatment (pneumonia is common)
- kidney concerns
Confirmation of multiple myeloma may require a number of tests and images, including: blood tests, bone marrow biopsy, x-rays, MRI, CT scan, etc.
Surgery is not commonly used to treat multiple myeloma, but may need to be used to help with bone issues as a result of this cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants may all be used to help treat multiple myeloma. There are a number of factors that go into determining the correct treatment plan, and your doctors will work together to ensure the best personalized plan is in place for you.
There are few known risk factors that can be avoided to prevent the development of multiple myeloma.