Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a plasma cell. Plasma cells help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs. Multiple myeloma causes 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.
It's not clear what causes myeloma; however, doctors know that it begins with one abnormal plasma cell in your bone marrow. The abnormal cell multiplies rapidly.
Because cancer cells don't mature and then die as normal 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, but the myeloma cells produce abnormal antibodies that the body can't use. The abnormal antibodies 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.
Signs and symptoms can include:
- bone pain, especially in your spine or chest,
- loss of appetite,
- mental fogginess or confusion,
- frequent infections,
- weight loss,
- weakness or numbness in your legs,
- excessive thirst.
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 are 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.
Complications of multiple myeloma include:
- Frequent infections. Myeloma cells inhibit your body's ability to fight infections.
- Bone problems. Multiple myeloma can also affect your bones, leading to bone pain, thinning bones and broken bones.
- Reduced kidney function. Multiple myeloma 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 normal blood cells, multiple myeloma can also cause anemia and other blood problems.
There are three stages: Stage I indicates a less aggressive disease, and stage III indicates an aggressive disease that may affect bone, kidneys and other organs.
Here is a sample image of someone's bones who has multiple myeloma. All the black spots are holes in the bones.
Standard treatment options include:
- Targeted therapy. Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive. Bortezomib (Velcade), carfilzomib (Kyprolis) and ixazomib (Ninlaro) are targeted drugs that block the action of a substance in myeloma cells that breaks down proteins. This action causes myeloma cells to die. Targeted-therapy drugs may be administered through a vein in your arm or in pill form.
- Biological therapy. Biological therapy drugs use your body's immune system to fight myeloma cells. The drugs thalidomide (Thalomid), lenalidomide (Revlimid) and pomalidomide (Pomalyst) enhance the immune system cells that identify and attack cancer cells. These medications are commonly taken in pill form.
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cells, including myeloma cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be given through a vein in your arm or taken in pill form. High doses of chemotherapy drugs are used before a bone marrow transplant.
- Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone and dexamethasone, regulate the immune system to control inflammation in the body. They are also active against myeloma cells. Corticosteroids can be taken in pill form or administered through a vein in your arm.
- Bone marrow transplant. A bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, is a procedure to replace your diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.
- Radiation therapy. This treatment uses beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to damage myeloma cells and stop their growth. Radiation therapy may be used to quickly shrink myeloma cells in a specific area — for instance, when a collection of abnormal plasma cells form a tumor (plasmacytoma) that's causing pain or destroying a bone.
The average life expectancy for Stage III multiple myeloma is 29 months.
My mom has Stage III multiple myeloma, diagnosed 24 months ago...
Borrowed heavily from Mayo Clinic website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-myeloma/symptoms-causes/syc-20353378