About Multiple Myeloma

Genetic changes in cells, called mutations, can prompt them to divide, grow and multiply uncontrollably. When this happens in the plasma cells (a type of cell found in the bone marrow and an integral part of the immune system), it results in a type of cancer called multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer characterised by the formation of abnormal plasma cells. A rise in the number of plasma cells in the bone marrow can suppress red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. This cancer is called ‘multiple’ myeloma because it affects many sites in the body, including the ribs, pelvis, spine and skull. The exact cause of multiple myeloma is unknown but occurs in older people more commonly. Due to improved diagnostic tools and effective treatments, multiple myeloma life expectancy has risen. The average five-year survival rate for multiple myeloma is around 54%.

Symptoms

Many people with multiple myeloma may not show any signs or symptoms. When they do, common symptoms of this cancer are:

  • Bone pain, especially in the spine or chest regions
  • Increased risk for bone fractures
  • Generalised weakness and fatigue
  • Unexplained or sudden weight loss
  • Frequent bouts of infections
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Bleeding from the nose or gums
  • Leg swelling due to kidney damage
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding in women
  • Increased urination
  • Changes in appetite and bowel movements
  • Blurring of vision

Multiple myeloma treatment options depend upon the presenting signs and symptoms of the condition, its stage, spread, and overall health of the patient. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms that are worrying you, visit your doctor today. 

Diagnosis

Some diagnostic tests that help diagnose multiple myeloma are:

  • Blood and urine analysis

A complete blood count test will help measure the levels of all blood cells, while the blood chemistry tests help determine creatinine, albumin and calcium levels. Blood and urine are analysed to detect the myeloma protein or M protein that increases in people with the condition. Other components that may be measured in the case of multiple myeloma are immunoglobulins and lactate dehydrogenase.

 

  • Imaging tests

X-ray, CT scan, MRIs and PET scan may be performed to get a detailed view of the different areas of the body where multiple myeloma may have spread.

 

  • Bone marrow biopsy

To confirm the diagnosis of multiple myeloma, most patients require to undergo a bone marrow biopsy, during which a long needle is used to aspirate a small amount of bone marrow tissue. This collected sample is sent to the laboratory for further analysis and staging of cancer when confirmed. 

 

Diagnostic test results and symptoms enable your doctor and healthcare team to determine how to treat multiple myeloma.

Treatment

While chemotherapy and multiple myeloma are usually the first thought for this cancer, there are multiple treatment options to choose from. If you have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma but are not experiencing any symptoms, you may not need immediate treatment.

Standard multiple myeloma treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Corticosteroids
  • Bone marrow transplant

Early-stage multiple myeloma is usually localised and is treated by surgery and radiation therapy. However, surgery may be performed to relieve symptoms rather than eliminate cancer. A combination of one or more of the treatment options may be used depending upon your symptoms, stage of cancer, and treatment effectiveness. 

Advanced stages of multiple myeloma usually require intensive treatments, which destroy the blood-forming bone marrow cells. A bone marrow transplant is performed in these cases.

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