This summer I will be including some guest blogs from a variety of experts, starting with my colleague Dr. Margaret Henderson who has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado. Dr. Henderson has a lot of experience with multiple myeloma, which she will be sharing in a 5-part patient education series.
–Dr. Stephen Vogt
Welcome to the first part in a 5-part patient education series on multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer affecting the bone marrow. This first part of the series will explain what this disease is, as well as how common it is and what are the signs and symptoms to look for. The following weeks of this 5-part series will cover how this disease is diagnosed, staging/prognosis, treatment, and treatment complications.
WHAT IS MULTIPLE MYELOMA?
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, which is a type of white blood cell. White blood cells fight infections in the body and are mostly made in the bone marrow. Plasma cells are mature B cells, and they make antibodies that help the body attack and kill invading entities, such as bacteria, viruses, and other diseases. Everyone makes plasma cells, but in those with multiple myeloma, plasma cells are produced at a much higher rate and volume which can lead to the production of a tumor called plasmacytoma. These tumors generally develop in a bone, but they can be found in other tissues, although this is very rare. When a person has multiple plasmacytomas, they have a diagnosis of multiple myeloma.
PREVALENCE OF MULTIPLE MYELOMA
Multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer. In the United States, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma is 1 in 143 (0.7%). In 2014, there were an estimated 118,539 people living with myeloma in the United States and it is estimated that about 86,000 new diagnoses occur annually, accounting for about 0.8% of all new cancer cases. The highest incidence of multiple myeloma can be found in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and North America.
RISK FACTORS FOR MULTIPLE MYELOMA
Risk factors for multiple myeloma include:
- Middle-aged or older
- African American
- Exposure to radiation or certain chemicals
- Personal history of monoclonal gammopathy (MGUS; abnormal protein, known as the monoclonal protein or M-protein is present in a person’s blood) or isolated plasmacytoma of the bone
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MULTIPLE MYELOMA
The symptoms of multiple myeloma can be non-specific and many patients do not have any symptoms at all. Some of the more common signs and symptoms associated with multiple myeloma include:
- Bone pain, bone weakness, or bone fractures
- Nausea, vomiting, confusion, or excessive thirst
- Weakness, tiredness, or shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness, tingling or weakness in the chest, lower back, or legs
- Increased number and longer duration of infections
- Kidney problems, including kidney failure
Next week, the second installment of this patient education series will explain every step in the diagnostic process for multiple myeloma.
‘What Are the Key Statistics About Multiple Myeloma?’ The American Cancer Society, The American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.
‘Cancer Stat Facts: Myeloma.’ National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/mulmy.html.
Becker, N. ‘Epidemiology of multiple myeloma.’ PubMed, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21509679.