Multiple Myeloma: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Multiple myeloma refers to a type of cancer formed from a certain white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells protect the body from infections by generating antibodies. They are produced in the bone marrow. But when cancerous plasma cell starts to grow in number, they will crowd out healthy blood cells. And instead of producing antibodies, plasma cell will start generating abnormal proteins that destroy the kidney tissues. Bone lesions may also form as well as abnormal high blood calcium levels.

Although multiple myeloma is an incurable disease, it’s manageable. In fact, treatment isn’t always necessary. As long as you are not experiencing serious signs or symptoms, you do not require treatment.

Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

The signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma will vary depending on the progression of the disease. Sometimes, there are no symptoms at all and this makes it harder to detect the condition. The tell-tale signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma include nausea, constipation, mental confusion and bone pain especially in the chest or spine. Other symptoms include vulnerability to infections, rapid weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness in the legs and excessive thirst.

Causes of Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma has no known cause. Health experts do not know why the plasma cells start mutating into an abnormal one or how plasma cells are able to reproduce at such rapid rate. Unlike healthy cells that die, cancer cells don’t mature. They will accumulate and overwhelm the healthy cells. When healthy cells are overwhelmed, it leads to fatigue and weakened immune system. This is why those who suffer from multiple myeloma are susceptible to infections.

In addition, while myeloma cells will produce antibodies like normal plasma cells, they produce abnormal proteins that the body cannot process. The proteins build up in the bones and cause chronic diseases.

Treating Multiple Myeloma

The right treatment will help you overcome this condition and live a relatively normal life. The standard treatment for multiple myeloma is targeted therapy, biological therapy, and chemotherapy. Other treatments include corticosteroids and stem cell transplant.

Targeted therapy is comprised of drugs focused on correcting specific abnormalities within the myeloma cells that allow them to survive. These drugs include bortezomib and carfilzomib. These medications block the action of a compound generated by myeloma cells that break down proteins.

On the other hand, biological therapy is a set of drugs that activates the immune system to banish myeloma cells. These drugs include thalidomide, lenalidomide, and pomalidomide. They strengthen the immune system, identify the cancer cells and compel antibodies to kill myeloma cells.

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells including myeloma cells. However, the drugs cannot identify the difference between healthy and cancer cells. So the medication will kill both cells, healthy or not. Chemotherapy drugs are either taken orally or intravenously.

Corticosteroids help regulate the immune system to prevent inflammation. In drug form, these compounds kill myeloma cells. Examples of corticosteroids include prednisone and dexamethasone. They are taken orally or intravenously.

Stem cell transplantation is a procedure wherein the diseased bone marrow is removed. Before the procedure, blood-forming stem cells are collected from the blood. You will be given high doses of chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells. Then, your stem cells are infused into the body to rebuild the diseased bone marrow.

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