What is Multiple Myeloma?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer which attacks the plasma cells that create antibodies in the blood.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer which attacks the plasma cells that create antibodies in the blood.

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer which attacks the plasma cells in bone marrow. This condition accounts for around one percent of all cancers, with approximately two percent of deaths from cancer being attributed to multiple myeloma. Like other cancers, this condition is not curable, but it can be treated, with the patient prognosis varying, depending on what stage the cancer is caught at. Patients with multiple myeloma typically require careful monitoring in an attempt to prevent the condition from progressing.

Fatigue and bone pain are usually the first symptoms of multiple myeloma.
Fatigue and bone pain are usually the first symptoms of multiple myeloma.

Plasma cells are extremely important, as they generate antibodies for the immune system. In a healthy individual, around five percent of the cells in bone barrow are plasma cells; in a multiple myeloma patient, this number can double, causing very serious health problems. The profusion of plasma cells can lead to anemia, and it also causes lesions in the bones which can make them susceptible to breakage. Multiple myeloma also commonly causes tumors.

Unfortunately, chemotherapy may destroy both cancerous and healthy cells when used to treat multiple myeloma.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy may destroy both cancerous and healthy cells when used to treat multiple myeloma.

The symptoms of this condition can be subtle, at first. Often bone pain is the first sign, along with fatigue. If the condition is allowed to progress untreated, patients can experience neurological problems as a result of the elevated calcium in their blood, which is caused by the dissolution of bone. It is also common to see abnormal proteins in the blood when patients are tested, and the condition often causes kidney problems as well.

Chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic, and may cause hair loss in some patients.
Chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic, and may cause hair loss in some patients.

You may also hear this condition called plasma cell myeloma, MM (for Multiple Myeloma), or Kahler's disease. In all cases, doctors have different treatment recommendations depending on the patient. In cases where patients are asymptomatic, for example, doctors may choose to simply monitor them. In patients with active problems related to multiple myeloma, various medications may be prescribed to treat issues like thinning bones and kidney failure. To attack the myeloma itself, an arsenal of treatments can be used, including radiation, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, thalidomide, bortezomid, and lenalidomide.

Fatigue that interferes with everyday activities, often in conjunction with bone pain, is typically the first symptom of multiple myeloma.
Fatigue that interferes with everyday activities, often in conjunction with bone pain, is typically the first symptom of multiple myeloma.

Men and people of black ancestry tend to get multiple myeloma more than others. Unfortunately for many patients, the condition is characterized by relapse. The cause of the initial mutation which triggers multiple myeloma is now known, although researchers are attempting to learn more about this and other cancers with the goal of prevention and better treatment.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer which attacks the plasma cells that create antibodies in the blood.
      By: Balint Radu
      Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer which attacks the plasma cells that create antibodies in the blood.
    • Fatigue and bone pain are usually the first symptoms of multiple myeloma.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Fatigue and bone pain are usually the first symptoms of multiple myeloma.
    • Unfortunately, chemotherapy may destroy both cancerous and healthy cells when used to treat multiple myeloma.
      By: nebari
      Unfortunately, chemotherapy may destroy both cancerous and healthy cells when used to treat multiple myeloma.
    • Chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic, and may cause hair loss in some patients.
      By: prudkov
      Chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic, and may cause hair loss in some patients.
    • Fatigue that interferes with everyday activities, often in conjunction with bone pain, is typically the first symptom of multiple myeloma.
      By: Halfpoint
      Fatigue that interferes with everyday activities, often in conjunction with bone pain, is typically the first symptom of multiple myeloma.
    • There is no cure for multiple myeloma, but the cancer can be treated and a positive prognosis achieved.
      By: Photographee.eu
      There is no cure for multiple myeloma, but the cancer can be treated and a positive prognosis achieved.
    • Various medications may be prescribed to patients showing symptoms of multiple myeloma.
      By: Scott Griessel
      Various medications may be prescribed to patients showing symptoms of multiple myeloma.