Multiple myeloma is a common form of blood cancer that affects the plasma cells. These plasma cells are found inside the bone marrow i.e. soft tissue inside your bones. Plasma cells make antibodies which help the body fight infection. However, in multiple myeloma, plasma cells make excess amounts of protein, which gets released into the bones and blood. A build-up of this excess protein leads to organ damage over time. Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of multiple myeloma.
Symptoms of multiple myeloma
External symptoms of multiple myeloma rarely show up in the initial phases of the disease. Moreover, the extent of the symptoms varies between people. Some of the most common symptoms of multiple myeloma are as follows:
- Constant fatigue: As myeloma cells crowd your body, the healthy cells work twice as hard to fight the infection. This makes you tire out faster than normal.
- Bone pain and weakness: Myeloma cells prevent the formation of new and healthy bone cells. This may lead to severe bone pain.
- Low immunity: Fewer antibodies make it difficult to resist infections.
- Kidney problems: The excess proteins released by myeloma cause kidney damage and failure.
- Other symptoms: Other common symptoms of multiple myeloma include nausea, frequent urination, confusion and dizziness, constipation, and back pain.
Risk factors for multiple myeloma
Anyone may develop this type of cancer. However, certain factors put some people in a higher risk category. These include:
- Genetic factors: Having a family history of multiple myeloma automatically puts you in a high-risk bracket for the disease.
- Age: Studies show that most people diagnosed with multiple myeloma are above 60 years of age.
- Plasma cell diseases: Multiple myeloma is more common in people who have suffered from other diseases of the plasma cells such as solitary plasmacytoma.
- Obesity: People who are overweight or obese fall in a higher risk group.
- Race: Multiple myeloma is more common in people of African descent than people of Caucasian descent. The exact cause for this tendency is yet unknown.
Diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma
If your doctor suspects multiple myeloma, he or she will recommend the following tests to ascertain your condition:
- Blood counts to measure the levels of red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets.
- Tests to check the levels of blood creatinine, albumin, calcium, and electrolytes.
- Urine tests to check if myeloma has affected the kidneys.
- Bone marrow biopsy to check for cancer cells.
- Imaging tests including CT scans, X-Rays, and MRIs.
Post-diagnosis, your doctor will determine the stage of cancer. This sets the course for the recommended treatment. Treatment for multiple myeloma involves chemotherapy and targeted therapy to kill cancerous cells. The type of chemotherapy depends on how advanced and aggressive the cancer is. Targeted therapy involves the use of drugs to target tissues and genes and prevent the growth of cancer cells.
Even after you have undergone successful treatment for multiple myeloma, make sure you check with your doctor for a survivorship care plan. This plan usually has a tentative schedule for follow-up tests, suggestions on diet and exercises, and reminders for regular appointments with your doctor.