Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that fight against disease and infection by producing antibodies in the body. On the other hand, myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, which leaves the body’s immune system weak and susceptible to infection. The increased amount of dysfunctional antibodies in the bloodstream can lead to kidney damage. Also, the increase of myeloma cells interferes with the production and function of red and white blood cells. Unfortunately, myeloma cells commonly cause bone destruction and bone pain/fractures. The myeloma cancer is also known as multiple myeloma because the myeloma cells occur at many sites in the bone marrow.
The cancer more frequently occurs in men and those who are over the age of fifty. It is also more likely in individuals who have a family history of multiple myeloma. Additionally, African-Americans are about twice as likely to develop multiple myeloma than white people. If you are concerned about myeloma, be sure to speak to hematologists or oncologists who are specialists in treating people with myeloma and other blood cancers.
What are some of the symptoms of myeloma? Well, there are several signs and symptoms that may occur and they can vary. Early in the disease there may be no symptoms. Below are some symptoms you may experience:
- Bone pain (spine or chest)
- Weakness or numb in legs
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Frequent infections
- Mental fogginess or confusion
There are a couple precursor diseases to multiple myeloma: monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma (SMM). What this means is that these are precancerous conditions that increase the risk of multiple myeloma. However, research is being conducted to try and identify the precursor diseases early enough before patients exhibit myeloma symptoms.
The diagnosis of myeloma depends on your doctor identifying the mutated plasma cells, which may be causing fractures, anemia, or kidney failure.
Another approach includes blood tests. Blood tests involve analysis of the blood and helps decipher if M proteins or beta-2-microglobulin are produced by myeloma cells. Additionally, blood tests help to examine kidney function, calcium levels, blood cell counts, and uric acid levels. Urine tests are also used to determine if M proteins are present. When M proteins are found in urine they are called Bence Jones proteins.
Examining your bone marrow is another option. By analyzing the sample of bone marrow professionals detect whether or not myeloma cells are present. Specialized tests, such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (also known as FISH), directly analyze the myeloma cells for genetic abnormalities. Observing and analyzing the bone marrow also allows for the measurement of how quickly the myeloma cells divide. Another test associated with your bone is the imaging test that detects bone problems. These tests tend to include an X-ray, MRI, PET (positron emission tomography), or CT scan.
Although treatment outcomes vary and results often depend on individual factors, it is important to find the best treatment approach for those who are struggling with the disease. However, please note that myeloma is not curable. It is important to speak to your doctor for advice on what treatment options you may have. If you are concerned about treatment or want a second opinion, be sure to reach out to a health care professional you trust.
Certain standard treatment options are:
Biological therapy: Drugs used in biological therapy are taken in pill form. The drugs use the body’s own immune system to fight the myeloma cells. Drugs include: Thalomid (thalidomide), Revlimid (lenalidomide), and Pomalyst (pomalidomide). These help enhance the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.
Chemotherapy: The drugs can be given through a vein in the arm or in pill form. High doses of this treatment is used before bone marrow transplant (another treatment option).
Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids can also be given in pill form or through a vein in your arm. Corticosteroids, including prednisone and dexamethasone, are active against myeloma cells.
Targeted therapy: This therapy targets and focuses on specific abnormalities in cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs are given through a vein in the arm or in pill form.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses beams of energy that damage myeloma cells and ultimately stop their growth.
Side effects may include long-term and late effects, which is why it is important to have a discussion with your doctor. Also, if you have any concerns or questions, speak to a health professional you trust in order to get the best advice.