Multiple Myeloma Cancer

Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. 

Blood is made up of both red and white blood cells. The white blood cells produce the antibodies that fight infection. One type of white blood cell (plasma cells) is found in the soft centers of our bones. In myeloma and other plasma cell diseases, one of the plasma cells becomes malignant (cancerous) and multiplies. As a result, certain antibodies are produced in too great an amount.

The growth of plasma cells interferes with the making of red and white blood cells, as well as platelets. Patients become anemic, can get infections easily and may have a tendency to bleed. When abnormal antibodies end up in the kidneys, they can cause kidney failure. Plasma tumors usually appear in the hip bones, spine, ribs and skull.

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Symptoms

Myeloma destroys bone, causing pain or the collapse of bones. Symptoms may include:

  • Anemia, from having too little iron in the blood
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Infections that keep coming back
  • Loss of height
  • Problems with the kidneys
  • Severe bone pain, especially in the back
  • Sudden bone fractures, usually in the back, ribs, arms or legs
  • Too much calcium in the blood from the breakdown of the bones
  • Bleeding problems
  • Confusion, vision difficulties and headaches (caused by blood not getting to the skin, fingers, toes and nose)

Causes and Risk Factors

The cause of myeloma is not known. 

Slightly more men than women are affected by this condition, and it usually occurs in people 40 or older. It also affects twice as many African Americans as Caucasians.

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Diagnosis

A doctor will base a diagnosis on the symptoms and the results of the following tests:

  • A blood test
  • Urine test
  • X-rays of the bones. If a person has multiple myeloma, the X-ray will show the lesions or widespread osteoporosis.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be helpful in predicting the outcome for patients in the early stages of the disease.
  • Taking samples of bone marrow (biopsy) and looking at them under a microscope. In a person with multiple myeloma, there will be large numbers of plasma cells at various stages of development.
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Treatments

Multiple myeloma is a disease that tends to grow worse over time. However, management of the condition can extend the patient's life and quality of life. 

Treatment options that may be recommended include:

  • Bone marrow transplantation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Drugs, including antibiotics to control infections, prevent kidney problems or to control anemia
  • Radiation therapy
  • Transfusions to prevent systemic anemia

A spine specialist can help manage the pain caused by this condition.