About

Multiple Myeloma


About Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer (related to lymphoma and leukemia) that originates in the plasma cells, which are essential components of your immune system. Plasma cells are a specific type of white blood cells that make antibodies (immunoglobulins) to find and attack germs, thereby fighting infections. Multiple myeloma is relatively uncommon; in the United States, the risk of developing this cancer is 1 in 132. In 2019, the American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 32,110 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed. While multiple myeloma cannot typically be cured, there are many treatments that slow its development.


The cancerous plasma cells of multiple myeloma multiply at an abnormally rapid rate, crowding out healthy blood cells. Instead of producing antibodies to fight infection, these cells then produce abnormal proteins that accumulate in your bones and blood. The buildup of abnormal protein (called monoclonal immunoglobulin) damages organs throughout the body.

As multiple myeloma progresses and worsens, the plasma cells spread out from your bone marrow and through your body, causing more damage to other organs.

A few risk factors have been linked to a higher incidence of developing multiple myeloma:

  • Older age: most cases are diagnosed in people who are at least 65 years old, and less than 1% of cases are diagnosed in patients younger than 35
  • Gender: men have a slightly higher chance of getting multiple myeloma than women do
  • Race: this cancer is more than twice as common in African Americans than in white Americans
  • Family history: multiple myeloma seems to run in families, so someone who has a first-degree relative with the disease is at higher risk
  • Obesity: being very overweight increases the risks
  • Having other plasma cell diseases: having monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or solitary plasmacytoma puts you at a higher risk of developing multiple myeloma

In the early stages of multiple myeloma, some people may not have any symptoms. Yet, as time passes, the most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Bone pain, especially in your spine or chest
  • Mental fogginess or confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness or numbness in your legs
  • Frequent infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst

Several associated health conditions are also symptomatic of multiple myeloma, such as:

  • Low blood counts – anemia (low red blood cell count) can cause shortness of breath and fatigue, leukopenia (low white blood cell count) can raise your risk of infections, or thrombocytopenia (low blood platelet count) can lead to easy bleeding or bruising
  • Hypercalcemia – bone tissue is dissolved, which releases calcium into the blood, and you may experience dehydration, frequent urination, constipation, and mental confusion
  • Kidney problems – the accumulation of abnormal antibody proteins and high blood calcium levels can damage your kidneys
  • Spinal cord compression – multiple myeloma can weaken or collapse your bone structures, which can lead to pain and numbness due to spinal cord compression

If your diagnostic tests detect multiple myeloma, our doctors will use information from the test results to classify your disease as stage I, stage II, or stage III. These stages are based on how far the cancer has spread. Stage I is the most passive form of the disease, whereas stage III describes an aggressive condition that can affect the kidneys, bone, and other organs. Knowing the stage of your disease is essential for planning the most effective treatment. Cancer staging can be very complex, and our team will take the time to provide clear explanations so that you understand your diagnosis.


What is multiple myeloma?

The cancerous plasma cells of multiple myeloma multiply at an abnormally rapid rate, crowding out healthy blood cells. Instead of producing antibodies to fight infection, these cells then produce abnormal proteins that accumulate in your bones and blood. The buildup of abnormal protein (called monoclonal immunoglobulin) damages organs throughout the body.

As multiple myeloma progresses and worsens, the plasma cells spread out from your bone marrow and through your body, causing more damage to other organs.

 

What are the risk factors of multiple myeloma?

A few risk factors have been linked to a higher incidence of developing multiple myeloma:

  • Older age: most cases are diagnosed in people who are at least 65 years old, and less than 1% of cases are diagnosed in patients younger than 35
  • Gender: men have a slightly higher chance of getting multiple myeloma than women do
  • Race: this cancer is more than twice as common in African Americans than in white Americans
  • Family history: multiple myeloma seems to run in families, so someone who has a first-degree relative with the disease is at higher risk
  • Obesity: being very overweight increases the risks
  • Having other plasma cell diseases: having monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or solitary plasmacytoma puts you at a higher risk of developing multiple myeloma

 

What are the symptoms of multiple myeloma?

In the early stages of multiple myeloma, some people may not have any symptoms. Yet, as time passes, the most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Bone pain, especially in your spine or chest
  • Mental fogginess or confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness or numbness in your legs
  • Frequent infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst

Several associated health conditions are also symptomatic of multiple myeloma, such as:

  • Low blood counts – anemia (low red blood cell count) can cause shortness of breath and fatigue, leukopenia (low white blood cell count) can raise your risk of infections, or thrombocytopenia (low blood platelet count) can lead to easy bleeding or bruising
  • Hypercalcemia – bone tissue is dissolved, which releases calcium into the blood, and you may experience dehydration, frequent urination, constipation, and mental confusion
  • Kidney problems – the accumulation of abnormal antibody proteins and high blood calcium levels can damage your kidneys
  • Spinal cord compression – multiple myeloma can weaken or collapse your bone structures, which can lead to pain and numbness due to spinal cord compression

 

What are the stages of multiple myeloma?

If your diagnostic tests detect multiple myeloma, our doctors will use information from the test results to classify your disease as stage I, stage II, or stage III. These stages are based on how far the cancer has spread. Stage I is the most passive form of the disease, whereas stage III describes an aggressive condition that can affect the kidneys, bone, and other organs. Knowing the stage of your disease is essential for planning the most effective treatment. Cancer staging can be very complex, and our team will take the time to provide clear explanations so that you understand your diagnosis.
 

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