What is Multiple Myeloma?

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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