What Is Myeloma? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

What is myeloma? How much have you heard about multiple myeloma and the symptoms? Multiple Myeloma is a blood cancer that affects almost 35,000 adults in the United States. Myeloma isn’t common, and many people are learning about it for the first time.Remember, the more you research different health conditions, the more knowledgeable you’ll be about your own body.

And you never know when you might be able to help someone else. So, never stop reading and researching.Want to know more? Then keep reading this guide to learn about multiple myeloma, symptoms, treatments, and everything else you need to know.

What Is Myeloma

Multiple Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that has no cure. Multiple myeloma affects plasma cells. Plasma cells are in your bone marrow, and their job is to make antibodies. Antibodies are the proteins that fight off germs and disease.

When an abnormal plasma cell develops in the bone marrow, it starts duplicating. The abnormal plasma cells eventually outnumber the healthy plasma cells.

Just like your normal plasma cells, the abnormal plasma cells attempt to make antibodies, but they only produce abnormal antibodies called monoclonal proteins (M proteins).

As these M proteins collect in your body, they produce harmful effects like kidney damage and other complications. The cancer cells also grow from the bone marrow into your bones, causing bone damage. Your bones become brittle, thinner, and holes (lytic lesions) can appear.

Main Types of Multiple Myeloma

There are two main types of multiple myeloma, many different subtypes based on chromosome abnormalities.

The first type is called indolent (smoldering) myeloma. With indolent myeloma, you don’t have symptoms. But what you do have is M proteins in your blood and plasma cells in your bone marrow.

But there aren’t enough cancer cells to cause you problems at first. Most people with indolent multiple myeloma go on to develop active myeloma in the future.

The second type of myeloma is known as active multiple myeloma. Active multiple myeloma is when you have all the symptoms of multiple myeloma, including bone lesions and M proteins.

MGUS and Multiple Myeloma

You can also have a condition called  monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance  (MGUS). MGUS is like a precursor to multiple myeloma, but it doesn’t always develop into myeloma. With MGUS, you have high levels of monoclonal proteins but no other clinical signs of myeloma.

Due to this, if you’re diagnosed with MGUS, you’ll need regular checkups to monitor your levels to make sure there isn’t any progression.

Causes and Risk Factors

It’s thought that specific changes in DNA (mutations) cause plasma cells to turn cancerous. Genetic changes and missing chromosomes also contribute to myeloma.

So what risk factors are there with multiple myeloma? Not surprisingly, your age, race, and genetics are all factors:

  • If you’re male
  • African-American
  • If you’re overweight or obese
  • Over the age of 50
  • Have a family history of multiple myeloma

If you’ve worked in the petroleum industry or have had radiation exposure, you’re also at higher risk. 

Also, if you have the condition MGUS, you’re at risk of this condition developing into multiple myeloma over time.

Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

Myeloma symptoms vary for each person. In the beginning, you may not have any noticeable symptoms. But as multiple myeloma progresses, a general pattern of symptoms typically develops. 

These main symptoms form the acronym CRAB, standing for:

  • Calcium
  • Renal Failure
  • Anemia
  • Bone damage

In multiple myeloma, your calcium level becomes high due to diseased bones leaking calcium. High calcium levels cause intense thirst, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, confusion, and constipation.

Kidney failure is common due to the M proteins building up in the kidneys. Cancerous plasma cells also cause anemia, fatigue, and dizziness. 

Myeloma bone lesions cause fractures and breaks where the cancerous cells invade the bone marrow. Fractures most commonly occur in the back, pelvis, skull, and ribs.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Weakness or numbness mainly in the legs
  • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Problems urinating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent infections
  • Problems with vision

Multiple Myeloma Diagnosis

Frequently, multiple myeloma is detected during a yearly physical exam. Routine blood tests will detect anemia and high levels of calcium which prompts further investigation.

Doctors will do more blood tests to check for M proteins, complete blood count, and kidney function tests. X-rays and CT scans determine if there is any bone damage.

Next is a bone marrow biopsy. A small sample of bone marrow will show cancer cells and other cell abnormalities. A bone marrow biopsy can tell you how fast the cancer cells are multiplying and what percentage of them are in your bone marrow.

Multiple Myeloma Staging

Once the diagnostic tests are complete, the information from them determines what stage you fall under.

Multiple myeloma is classified from stage 1 to 3, with stage 3 representing the most aggressive stage.

Multiple Myeloma Treatment

If your multiple myeloma is at an early stage, doctors often recommend a watchful waiting approach.

However, once you have symptoms of myeloma and sign of disease progression, you’ll need treatment. Treatment for multiple myeloma depends on the type and stage you have but usually includes:

  • Targeted therapy which targets weaknesses in cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy helps your immune system fight off cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy uses medication to kill fast-growing cancer cells
  • Steroid therapy to control inflammation
  • Radiation therapy uses beams to target and kill cancer cells

Bone marrow transplants are also another treatment option. Your diseased bone marrow is replaced with new, healthy bone marrow and stem cells from a donor.

Multiple Myeloma Awareness

So, now you know the answer to the question-what is myeloma. Don’t forget that March is multiple myeloma awareness month.

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