What Is Multiple Myeloma?

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According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in 2009 there were an estimated 20,580 new cases of multiple myeloma and 10,580 myeloma-related deaths. Multiple myeloma (also known as Kahler disease, myelomatosis and plasma cell myeloma) is a form of cancer that is caused by abnormal plasma cells in the blood. According to the NCI, multiple myeloma "is the second most common blood cancer in the United States and comprises approximately 1 percent of all cancers.” The following contains information about multiple myeloma, its symptoms and how it is treated.

The Facts

Bone marrow contains stem cells which develop into white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Plasma, a type of white blood cell, makes antibodies which help fight germs and other threats. Myeloma is cancer that develops from abnormal plasma cells. Cancer is a condition in which new cells are created when they should not be and old cells do not die when they should. This causes an overgrowth of cells called a tumor. Groups of myeloma cells cluster in bone marrow, at times affecting the actual bone itself. “Multiple myeloma” is when several separate bones are affected by myeloma.

Who Is At Risk?

The NCI reports that being in one or more of the following groups is a risk factor for developing multiple myeloma: those over the age of 65, African-Americans, males, those with a family history of multiple myeloma or those with a personal history of MGUS (which stands for “monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance,” a benign, abnormal blood plasma condition). The NCI goes on to say that having these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will develop multiple myeloma.

Symptoms

The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) offers a list of common symptoms of multiple myeloma. Some symptoms are caused by myeloma-related kidney problems which lead to a loss of appetite, weakness, nausea and other side effects. Other symptoms include pain in the lower back or ribs, fatigue, recurrent infections (such as pneumonia) and problems with severe nerve pain, tingling or numbness. The NCI adds the following to the list of common symptoms: broken bones, thirst, weight loss and frequent urination.

Treatment

According to the NCI, depending on what stage of multiple myeloma one is at when diagnosed, there are several treatments available. Sometimes a combination of treatments is used. Those in the very beginning stages may be advised by their doctor to delay further treatment until more symptoms manifest. This way, the patient can delay the side effects of the treatments until absolutely necessary. If the myeloma is at a sufficiently advanced state, induction therapy (the delivery of cancer-killing drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy) may be necessary. Finally, stem cell transplants are sometimes an option for people with multiple myeloma.

Support

The MMRF has a list of multiple myeloma support groups listed by state. They also offer the assistance of the Myeloma Mentors, an MMRF-sponsored group of trained and certified mentors who volunteer to share their personal experiences with multiple myeloma. The NCI offers a telephone service to help locate programs and other resources. Contact them at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). They also offer a service called LiveHelp Online Chat that allows cancer information specialists to answer questions in an online text-based chat format.

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