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What Is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, which are special types of white blood cells (B lymphocytes). Lymphocytes are produced in bone marrow (the soft substance in the middle of bones). Plasma cells are involved in the immune system. They make antibodies that attack foreign substances (antigens such as viruses and bacteria) in the body. When plasma cells become abnormal and malignant, they multiply rapidly, interfere with normal blood cells, and make abnormal antibodies that can’t fight disease. Overgrowth of these malignant cells can weaken bones and cause pain and fractures.

This disorder is uncommon, but more than 14,000 new cases are diagnosed yearly in the United States. Most cases occur after age 60.

What Causes Multiple Myeloma?

The cause is unknown. The disease isn’t contagious.

What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma?

Bone pain is a common symptom, with the back and ribs most often affected. Pain is worse with movement. Low blood count (anemia) and infections are common.

Myeloma cells destroy the bone and release calcium into blood, which leads to complications such as nerve compression, lower leg weakness, and kidney failure. High blood calcium levels can cause increased urination, weakness, and confusion.

How Is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?

The doctor will do a complete physical examination and order blood and urine tests, x-rays, and bone marrow biopsy for diagnosis. In a biopsy, marrow is removed from the bone and checked with a microscope. An abnormal protein in the blood, x-rays results, and abnormal plasma cells in the biopsy confirm the diagnosis.

How Is Multiple Myeloma Treated?

Staging of the cancer is done to give a prognosis. Staging involves finding out the extent of disease. Many people with very early stage disease live longer than 5 years, but people with advanced disease may have a much shorter life expectancy.

An oncologist (doctor specializing in cancer) will be involved in treatment, which depends on the stage of disease. Stem cell transplantation, chemotherapy, biologic therapy, blood transfusions, radiation therapy, and surgery are used.

Radiation therapy is used for bone pain and medical emergencies (spinal cord compression).

Operations are needed for bone fractures. Supportive treatments, such as antibiotics (for infections), medications to lower the calcium level, and narcotic pain medicines, help well-being.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Multiple Myeloma:

  • DO drink lots of fluids (for elevated calcium blood levels) and prevention of dehydration.
  • DO take your medicines as prescribed.
  • DO ask your health care provider about counseling and support groups.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have fevers, back pain, leg numbness or weakness, and problems with bowel movements or urination. These can be caused by spinal cord compression.
  • DO call your health care provider if you see blood in stools, urine, phlegm, or vomit.
  • DO call your health care provider if you feel depressed.
  • DON’T be sedentary. This can lead to higher calcium levels.
  • DON’T lift heavy items. It can increase the risk of bone fractures.
  • DON’T suffer. Ask for pain medicines if you are in pain.
  • DON’T miss follow-up appointments. Your health care provider needs to repeat blood tests, x-rays, and urine collections to check responses to treatment or decide to start treatment.

Contact the following source:

  • International Myeloma Foundation
    Tel: (800) 452-2873
  • National Cancer Institute
    Tel: (800) 422-6237
  • American Cancer Society
    Tel: (800) 227-2345

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor