What Is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that occurs in the plasma cells (a type of blood cell) in the bone marrow. It is also known as Myeloma. Unlike most other cancers, it does not form a tumour, but instead the myeloma cells divide and expand within the bone marrow causing damage to the bones which in turn affects the production of healthy blood cells. The reason why it can also be referred to as multiple myeloma is because it affects many parts of the body.
Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
In the early stages of this cancer, there may be no symptoms experienced. However, as the cancer progresses, the following symptoms can occur:
- Feeling weak due to anaemia, which occurs due to the inadequate production of the red blood cells
- Bone pain or tenderness
- Rashes on the skin
- Back pain
- Swelling of the legs
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Getting frequent infections
- Excessive thirst
Causes of Multiple Myeloma
The exact cause of this type of cancer is not known. However, some of risk factors include:
- Family history: If someone in your family has had multiple myeloma, your risk of getting the disease is increased.
- Personal history of other plasma cell diseases: Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma or a related cancer.
- Exposure to radiation and some chemicals such as herbicides, insecticides, benzene and hair dyes can also increase the risk of getting multiple myeloma.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can also increase the risk of getting multiple myeloma.
Diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma
To determine whether one has multiple myeloma, the following tests can be done:
- Blood test: It shows abnormal amounts of protein in the bloodstream or an unusual stickiness of the red blood cells which causes them to be stack up.
- Blood count test: This test checks the level of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the body. The presence of multiple myeloma causes low blood cell levels.
- Quantitative immunoglobulins: It is a test that measures the level of blood in different antibodies to check whether the immunoglobulin levels are abnormally high or low which can indicate the presence of multiple myeloma.
- Free light chains: Measure the light chains in the blood which could be a sign of myeloma.
- Blood chemistry tests: Test to show the level of blood urea nitrogen, albumin and other electrolytes which can indicate how well the kidney is working.
- Bone marrow biopsy: This is done by looking at a sample of the bone marrow tissue under a microscope to see the appearance, size and shape of the cells, how they are arranged and to determine whether there are myeloma cells in the bone marrow.
- Urine test: It is done to test the functioning of the kidney.
Protein test: To check how much and what kinds of abnormal proteins the body is making.
- Image tests: X-rays can also be done to check for spots of weakened bone. These can be done using a computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or PET scan.
- Echocardiogram: This test is used to check the heart muscle and how it’s working. This is done especially if it is suspected you have amyloidosis, which occurs when there is a build-up of amyloid in an organ.
Although multiple myeloma has no known cure, there is treatment to improve the quality of life for those who get it. Treatment is started after the symptoms begin to manifest. Some of these treatments include:
- Medication: This usually depends on the age and how aggressive the cancer is.
- Chemotherapy: A combination of drugs are used to kill the fast-growing cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: It involves using high energy beams to damage the myeloma cells and stop them from growing
- Target therapy: This involves using drugs to focus on the specific abnormalities within the cancer cells that allow them to survive.
- Biological therapy: It involves using drugs to help the body’s immune system fight the multiple myeloma cells.
- Corticosteroids: These are used to regulate the immune system to control inflammation in the body.
- Bone Marrow transplant: This procedure is done to replace the diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.
Management of Multiple Myeloma
People with multiple myeloma can live longer if they take good care of their health by doing the following:
- Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients that help with the body’s immunity
- Getting enough rest
- Remaining physically active
- Seeking support from family and support groups
People with multiple myeloma need to have a strong support system and the necessary care. That is why it is important to create more awareness about this type of cancer so that people who are suffering from this disease and those whose loved ones have multiple myeloma are able to cope with the disease.