What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple Myeloma is a form of a cancer of the plasma cells. The plasma cell is a type of white blood cell which makes antibodies which help the body fight off infections and germs which may infiltrate the body. Due to Multiple Myeloma, there is accumulation of cancer cells in the bone marrow which outnumber the healthy blood cells and thus instead of producing helpful antibodies the cancer cells start producing abnormal proteins which may result in various problems including kidney dysfunction.
Multiple Myeloma usually does not produce any symptoms and if an individual with this condition is not experiencing any symptoms then no treatment is necessary but if there are signs and symptoms experienced by the patient then there are treatments available to treat Multiple Myeloma.
What Causes Multiple Myeloma?
There is no clear cut cause for Multiple Myeloma but what is known is that myeloma starts off with an abnormal plasma cell. These abnormal cells start to multiple abnormally. As we know that cancer cells do not mature and die like the normal cells this result in accumulation of these cells to such an extent that they outnumber the healthy cells. In case of Multiple Myeloma, these abnormal cells crowd the bone marrow and outnumber the healthy white blood cells and instead of producing antibodies to fight off infections these abnormal cells start producing abnormal proteins which may affect various organs like the kidney and cause excessive fatigue and inability of the body to fight infections.
What are the Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma?
As stated above, Multiple Myeloma may not cause any signs or symptoms but in case symptoms are experienced they are very varied. Some of the symptoms of Multiple Myeloma are:
- Bone pain, especially in the spine or chest
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive fatigue
- Frequent infections
- Unintentional weight loss
- Weakness in the lower extremities
- Excessive thirst.
How is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?
Multiple Myeloma may be suspected depending on the signs and symptoms that the individual experiences but in some cases this condition may be diagnosed incidentally when a blood work is being done for some other condition. Some of the tests that can definitively diagnose Multiple Myeloma are:
Blood Tests: This may reveal the proteins that myeloma cells produce which will confirm the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. Another abnormal protein produced by myeloma cells which is the beta-2-microglobulin will also be detected confirming the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. In addition, blood tests to test the kidney function, cell count, calcium, and uric acid levels can also helping the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma.
Urinalysis: This may also show the proteins that are produced by the myeloma cells which may confirm the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma.
Bone Marrow Biopsy: This is one of the most confirmatory tests to diagnose Multiple Myeloma.
Once Multiple Myeloma is confirmed then it becomes vital to stage the condition so that treatment can be formulated accordingly. There are generally three stages of Multiple Myeloma, stage I, stage II, and stage III. Stage I indicate the starting phase of Multiple Myeloma and is considered less aggressive. Stage II is considered to be the moderate form of Multiple Myeloma. Stage III is considered to be the most severe form of this condition and may affect the bone, kidneys, and other vital organs of the body. Depending on the stage of the disease condition a treatment plan and prognosis will be formulated for Multiple Myeloma.
How is Multiple Myeloma Treated?
For Multiple Myeloma cases where there are no symptoms experienced by the patient then no treatment is necessary but constant monitoring is required to look for progression of the disease, which may done by done by routine blood and urine test.
For cases where an individual does experience signs and symptoms of Multiple Myeloma and tests show signs of progression of the disease process, then the doctor may decide to start treatment. Although there is no cure for Multiple Myeloma but by treatment an individual can lead a near normal life. Some of the treatment modalities used to treat Multiple Myeloma are:
Drug Treatment: Targeted drug treatment with medications like Velcade and Kyprolis is done which block the action of substance in myeloma cells that breaks downproteins. This causes myeloma cells to die. Both medications are administered intravenously.
Biological Therapy: Biological medications work by using the body’s immune system to fight off the myeloma cells. Some medications used for this purpose are thalidomide, Revlimid, and Pomalyst. These medications boost the immune system which then identify and attack the cancer cells.
Radiation and Chemotherapy: Radiation therapy may be done to kill the cancer cells and chemotherapy drugs may be used to kill cancer cells.
Corticosteroids: They have also shown to be quite effective in treating Multiple Myeloma. Corticosteroids are quite effective in destroying the myeloma cells.
What is the Prognosis & Life Expectancy of Multiple Myeloma?
The prognosis of Multiple Myeloma is variable and depends on the stage of the condition and the response of the patient to various treatments as mentioned above. Although there is no cure for Multiple Myeloma, the advancement that science has made over the years has prolonged the life expectancy significantly. Depending on the stage of Multiple Myeloma an individual with stage I Multiple Myeloma will have an average life expectancy of about 5 years. Life expectancy decreases in stage II patients to 4.5 years and stage III to around 3 years due to Multiple Myeloma.