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What can I Expect After a Myeloma Diagnosis?

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  • Written By: M. Haskins
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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Myeloma is a cancer that affects a type of blood cells called plasma cells, causing symptoms such as high calcium levels, kidney problems, and bone lesions. This cancer is also known as Kahler's disease, multiple myeloma, and plasma cell myeloma. A myeloma diagnosis is often followed by a process called cancer staging, which can involve blood tests, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and x-ray computed tomography (CT-scan). Cancer staging is done after a myeloma diagnosis to determine which one of the three stages of the disease a specific patient is in, rated from stage I, which is early disease, to stage III, which is more advanced. Once the extent of the disease is determined, various treatment options can be recommended, like chemotherapy drugs, a bone marrow transplant, stem-cell transplantation, or radiation therapy.

Two blood tests are often done after a myeloma diagnosis to determine the stage of the disease. These tests are a blood albumin test, which can be used to determine if there is kidney damage, and a Beta-2 micro globulin test, which is used to determine how the plasma cells are affected. A CT scan, which provides detailed x-ray images of bones, and an MRI, which also provides detailed images of internal tissue, are sometimes done after a myeloma diagnosis to determine the extent of any bone lesions.

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The International Staging System (ISS) is often used after a myeloma diagnosis. Staging of the disease is done both to determine what treatments can be recommended and to help predict survival for patients. Patients with stage I myeloma have few symptoms with no damage to the bones and calcium levels that are usually normal. For these patients, doctors sometimes recommend what is called watchful waiting, which involves no medical treatment but regular checkups. The median survivability is more than five years for patients with stage I myeloma.

In stage II myeloma there are more cancer cells present, and the median survival is just more than four years. Patients with stage III myeloma have advanced bone lesions, anemia, and high levels of calcium and the median survival is just more than two years. Various types of treatments can be recommended after a myeloma diagnosis for patients in stage II and stage III. Combination chemotherapy, involving the use of several drugs, targeted radiation, and stem-cell or bone-marrow transplants can be part of the treatment. These treatments can slow the disease, or lead to cancer remission, but can also have severe side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, and vomiting.

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