What Is Multiple Myeloma?

What Is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myelomas are the form of cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs.

Multiple myelomas cause cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications.

Treatment for multiple myeloma isn’t always necessary for people who aren’t experiencing any signs or symptoms. For people with multiple myeloma who require treatment, several treatments are available to help control the disease. Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary, and, early in the condition, there may be none.

When signs and symptoms do occur, they can include bone pain, especially in your spine or chest, nausea, constipation, loss of appetite, mental fogginess or confusion, fatigue, frequent infections, weight loss, weakness or numbness in your legs and excessive thirst.

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Myeloma affects multiple places in the body, which is why it is referred to sometimes as ‘multiple’ myeloma. Myeloma affects where bone marrow is normally active in an adult, such as in the bones of the spine, skull, pelvis, the rib cage, long bones of the arms and legs and the areas around the shoulders and hips.

Doctors know that myeloma begins with one abnormal plasma cell in your bone marrow — the soft, blood-producing tissue that fills in the center of most of your bones. The abnormal cell multiplies rapidly. Because cancer cells don’t mature and then die as healthy cells do, they accumulate, eventually overwhelming the production of healthy cells. In the bone marrow, myeloma cells crowd out healthy white blood cells and red blood cells, leading to fatigue and an inability to fight infections.

The myeloma cells continue trying to produce antibodies, as healthy plasma cells do. However, the myeloma cells produce abnormal antibodies that the body can’t use. Instead, the abnormal antibodies (monoclonal proteins, or M proteins) build up in the body and cause problems such as damage to the kidneys. Cancer cells can also cause damage to the bones that increases the risk of broken bones. Factors that may increase your risk of multiple myeloma include:

Increasing age: Your risk of multiple myeloma increases as you age, with most people diagnosed in their mid-60s.

Male sex: Men are more likely to develop the disease than are women.

Black race: Black people are about twice as likely to develop multiple myeloma as are white people.

Family history of multiple myeloma: If a brother, sister, or parent has multiple myeloma, you have an increased risk of the disease.

You have reduced kidney function. Multiple myelomas may cause problems with kidney function, including kidney failure. Higher calcium levels in the blood related to eroding bones can interfere with your kidneys’ ability to filter your blood’s waste. The proteins produced by the myeloma cells can cause similar problems.

Low red blood cell count (anemia). As myeloma cells crowd out healthy blood cells, multiple myeloma can also cause anemia and other blood problems.

Myeloma is a relapsing-remitting cancer. This means there are periods when the myeloma is causing symptoms and/or complications and needs to be treated, followed by periods of remission or plateau where the myeloma does not cause symptoms and does not require treatment!

Until Next Time,

Team Doctor ASKY!

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