Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. Plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system. The immune system is made up of several types of cells that work together to fight infections and other diseases. Lymphocytes (lymph cells) are one of the main types of white blood cells in the immune system and include T cells and B cells.
Lymphocytes are in many areas of the body, such as blood stream, bone marrow, intestines, and lymph nodes. When B cells respond to an infection, they mature and change into plasma cells. Plasma cells make the antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) that help the body attack and kill germs.
Multiple myeloma is characterized by the proliferation of malignant plasma cells and a subsequent production of abnormal proteins by the malignant plasma cells called M protein, which builds up throughout the body and causes organ damage.
Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma include:
- Bone pain
- Renal failure
- Nausea, constipation and loss of appetite
- Mental fogginess and confusion
- Infections (often pneumococcal)
- Weight Loss
- Weakness and malaise
There are certain factors that increase one’s risk of developing multiple myeloma:
- Being older than 65 years.
- Being male
- Having black ethnicity or lineage
- Family history of multiple myeloma
- Personal history of monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance (MGUS): MGUS is not considered myeloma but in some cases, it can be a pre-malignant condition, because some people with MGUS will eventually develop into cancers such as multiple myelomas and lymphomas.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Myeloma
Tests and procedures used to diagnose multiple myeloma include:
- Serum and urine assessment for monoclonal proteins.
- Serum free light chain assay.
- Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy
- Serum beta2-microglobulin, albumin and lactose dehydrogenase measurements
- Standard metaphase cytogenetics and fluorescence in situ hybridization
- Imaging: skeletal survey (CT scan, X-ray, MRI and PET scan).
Treatment options include:
- Targeted drug therapy
- Bone Marrow Transplant
- Radiation Therapy
Supportive and Complementary Care
Supportive and complementary care techniques are used alongside standard care to improve the overall patient experience. These are some supportive approaches that many patients with multiple myeloma find useful during the course of their disease/treatment:
- Emotional health support (such as counseling and support groups)
- Exercise programs
- Nutritional counseling
- Physical therapy
- Relaxation techniques (such as meditation, hypnosis, and yoga)
- Spiritual health support
- Support for practical concerns (including financial assistance, transportation to and from treatments, etc)
Please speak with your healthcare team, if you feel you would benefit from any of these supportive care approaches.