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Multiple Myeloma

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment for multiple myeloma

Myeloma refers to cancer that starts in plasma cells (white blood cells). It occurs when an abnormal plasma cell (a myeloma cell) divides to create more myeloma cells that collect in the bone marrow and cause damage to the bone itself. Multiple myeloma cancer refers to cases where more than one bone is damaged.

Multiple myeloma the most common of all types of plasma cell cancers, but it is still an uncommon form of cancer. It affects roughly only 1 in 159 people across the US each year. Still, the disease is responsible for over 10,000 deaths each year, and has a 5-year survival rate of only 40 percent.

Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

Multiple myeloma research is ongoing as it is still not known what causes the condition. Often, the condition is found in routine blood tests, so patients may not even know they have it. It is also commonly found after x-rays are done for broken bones.

Other signs of multiple myeloma include bone pain (commonly in the back or ribs) and broken bones, weight loss, weakness or fatigue and repeated infections. When patients report these symptoms, doctors will conduct blood tests, urine tests and x-rays or biopsy to check for multiple myeloma.

Multiple Myeloma Risk Factors

Risk factors for multiple myeloma include:

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • History of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or other plasma cell disorders
  • Farming (possibly due to exposure to pesticides or working with animals)
  • Occupational paint exposure
  • Specific medications (laxatives, erythromycin, diazepam and more)

Additional risk factors include autoimmune conditions, viral infections, genetic mutations and more. Be sure to discuss all risk factors closely with your doctor if you are worried you are at risk for this condition.

Multiple Myeloma Treatment

There are a variety of treatment options available as part of a multiple myeloma prognosis. If you have no symptoms, doctors may choose to just watch and wait to see if symptoms even arise. If symptoms do present, treatment will likely start with induction therapy (a first-time effort to shrink cells using medications, chemotherapy or other treatment options). After that, stem cell transplant and radiation therapy may also be used as treatment options.

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