The life expectancy for multiple myeloma cannot be precisely determined because several factors contribute to the equation. Generally speaking, most multiple myeloma patients live on average about five to eight years, depending on when the cancer is diagnosed, the stage of cancer at diagnosis, and whether treatment proves effective. A study by the European Cancer Registry shows that one-third of multiple myeloma patients lived longer than five years.
A longer life expectancy might occur if the disease is caught early. This type of cancer becomes progressively worse over time because cancerous cells tend to spread throughout the body. Multiple myeloma means tumors are present in more than one area of bone marrow, commonly in the spine, skull, ribs, and hips.
The disease is considered a rare non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and represents approximately 1% of all cancers diagnosed. It develops in white blood cells, called plasma cells, generated in bone marrow. These blood cells make up the body’s immune system, which fights off infection. As the bone marrow transports diseased plasma cells throughout the body’s bones, it makes multiple myeloma difficult to stop.
The life expectancy for multiple myeloma may improve with a bone marrow transplant via donor cells. This treatment might be successful if the disease is diagnosed early and cancer has not spread beyond one area in the bone marrow. During later stages of the disease, treatment addresses symptoms and prolonging the patient's life through drugs.
Symptoms of multiple myeloma include bone pain, especially in the spinal region. The disorder might also produce anemia that causes patients to become weak and tired. Bones might thin and become brittle, leading to fractures, or excess calcium might build up in the bones. Some people with this disease suffer headaches, confusion, and vision problems because insufficient blood is carried to the skin and extremities.
Chemotherapy and radiation represent typical treatments to kill off cancerous blood cells, but unfortunately, healthy blood cells are often killed as well. Patients might be given antibiotics to curb infection, since the normal function of antibodies is disrupted. Other patients may receive periodic blood transfusions to address anemia.
People over the age of 60 face an increased risk of multiple myeloma, which is estimated at five to six cases for every 100,000 people. The disease is diagnosed through urine or blood tests, or a bone marrow biopsy. Tumors or signs of osteoporosis might also show up in X-ray images.