Myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell that helps the body recognize and attack germs. An abnormal plasma cell, also called a myeloma cell, will multiply and divide creating more abnormal plasma cells. These myeloma cells collect in bone barrow and begin to damage the solid part of the bone. When myeloma cells affect several bones in the body, the disease is called multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma can cause other problems such as bone fractures and legions, damage to kidneys and other organs, suppression of the immune system and anemia. Symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary and may not be apparent in the early stages of the disease. When signs and symptoms do appear, they can include: bone pain, especially in the spine or chest; nausea; constipation; loss of appetite; mental fogginess or confusion; fatigue; frequent infections; unexplained weight loss; weakness or numbness in the legs; excessive thirst.
Treatment for multiple myeloma isn’t always necessary for people who aren’t experiencing any signs or symptoms. For people with multiple myeloma who require treatment, many treatments are available to help control the disease. To determine the best course of treatment, blood and urine tests, bone marrow biopsies and imaging test such as an X-ray, MRI, CT or PET may be performed.
- Targeted Drug Therapy uses drugs that attack specific vulnerabilities or malfunctions within the cancer cells.
- Biological Therapy or Immunotherapy uses treatments that help the body’s own immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy drugs are usually administered through a vein, but can also be taken as a pill, depending on the specific drug being received.
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone and dexamethasone, regulate the immune system to control inflammation in the body.
- Stem Cell (or Bone Marrow) Transplant – a procedure to replace diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Before a stem cell transplant, high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy will be given to destroy diseased bone marrow. Then an infusion of blood-forming stem cells is given to help rebuild healthy bone marrow. Stem cells may be from a donor or in some cases the patient’s own stem cells.
It is unclear what causes multiple myeloma, but some risk factors include increasing in age, being a male, being African American, having a family history of the disease and having a personal history of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).
Complications of this disease may include frequent infections, bone pain, broken or thinning bones, reduced kidney function and anemia (low red blood cell count).