Multiple Myleoma: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Multiple Myleoma: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Multiple myleoma, also called plasma cell myleoma, is a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells. Plasma is a liquid used by the body’s immune system to make antibodies that kill invading microorganisms. But for a person with plasma cell myleoma, bone marrow can no longer produce normal blood. Instead, the plasma cells grow out of control and produce growths on bones. The most common bones affected are the ribs and spine.

It is unknown what causes multiple myleoma. However, older people who have undergone multiple radiation treatments are most prone to getting it. It very rarely affects children or young adults.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of multiple myleoma are:

  • Anemia or feeling tired all of the time. This is due to problems in bone marrow making enough healthy red blood cells.

  • Increased body infections because the normal antibodies in the blood are no longer present.

  • Fever

  • Problems breathing due to blood cells not being able to carry oxygen efficiently around the body

  • Sudden strange bleeding from bodily orifices

  • Pain in the bones where the growths are, such as the ribs and spine

  • Numbness, tingling sensation or weakness in the arms or legs. These are caused by bony growths pressing onto sensitive nerves.

Diagnosis

Never try to self-diagnose. Some symptoms of multiple myleoma are nearly identical to other medical problems. These symptoms do not o away by themselves and tend to worsen over time. If plasma cell myleoma is caught early enough, there is a good chance of recovery.

Patients will undergo numerous tests, including but not limited to:

  • Blood test for a complete blood cell count (CBC) People with myleoma tend to have abnormally low numbers of platelets and red blood cells.

  • Blood tests for calcium, protein and kidney function indicators – other factors which could cause symptoms but do not necessarily mean cancer

  • Urinalysis to check for normal levels of natural antibodies and proteins

  • Bone density checks or dual-emission X-ray absorbtiometry (DEXA or DXA) scans

  • X-rays of bones

If these tests are positive, then often a patient will need a bone marrow biopsy in order to clinch the diagnosis. This test is not done first because it is a 30 minute, painful procedure and often requires anesthesia. Often, it can be done in a doctor’s office but sometimes a patient may need to be hospitalized.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the general health of the patient and how far advanced the cancer is. Treatment choices include radiation treatment to shrink tumors and medications. Both may be used depending on the patient’s circumstances. Many medications are used in combination for treatment, including but not limited to:

  • Bisphosphonatesto ease bone pain and strengthen affected bones

  • Doxil

  • Melphalan to stop cancer cells from growing

  • Thalidomide for people in early stages of this cancer

  • Bortezomib to kill cancer cells in more advanced cases

  • Cyclophosphamide

  • Dexamethasone

Some medications for multiple myleoma need to be administered intravenously. This procedure is usually done in a doctor’s office.

If medications and radiation therapy are not enough, then a patient with multiple myleoma will need a bone marrow transplant. If the bone marrow is grown using stem cells from the patient, then they have a good chance of the body not rejecting the transplant.

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