Multiple myeloma is a disease in which the body makes too many plasma cells in the blood. In multiple myeloma, abnormal plasma cells build up in the bone marrow, forming tumors in many bones of the body. These tumors may prevent the bone marrow from making enough healthy blood cells. Normally, the bone marrow produces stem cells (immature cells) that develop into three types of mature blood cells:
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other materials to all tissues of the body.
- White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
- Platelets that help prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form.
As the number of myeloma cells increases, fewer red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made. The myeloma cells also damage and weaken the hard parts of the bones. A tumor can damage the bone and cause hypercalcemia (a condition in which there is too much calcium in the blood). This can affect many organs in the body, including the kidneys, nerves, heart, muscles, and digestive tract, and cause serious health problems.
Sometimes multiple myeloma does not cause any symptoms. The following symptoms may be caused by multiple myeloma or other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
- Bone pain, often in the back or ribs.
- Bones that break easily.
- Fever for no known reason or frequent infections.
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Trouble breathing.
- Weakness of the arms or legs.
- Feeling very tired.
Multiple Myeloma is diagnosed using a physican examination, laboratory tests of the blood, urine and bone marrow, as well as imaging tests.
- Blood tests: A sample of blood is drawn and tested for the number, amount and type of red blood cells, platelets, white blood cells, and hemoglobin. In addition, it's tested to measure the amounts of certain substances, such as calcium or albumin, released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body.
- Urine tests: A sample of urine is collected and tested for levels of certain substances.
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
- X-ray: An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body. The x-rays are used to find areas where the bone is damaged.
- MRI: A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. An MRI may be used to find areas where the bone is damaged.
There are several options for the treatment of multiple myeloma. Often, these treatments are used in conjunction with each other to provide the best chance of eliminating the cancer cells.
In many cases, treatment of multiple myeloma includes Stem Cell Transplantation. Stem cell transplantation involves harvesting stem cells from either the patient or a donor, treating the patient with chemotherapy and sometimes radiation before infusing the collected stem cells into the patient. The stem cells make their way to the center of the bones, where they begin to grow into new blood cells, which can take from two to four weeks.
St. Francis has one of the most experienced stem cell transplant programs in South Carolina. The St. Francis Stem Cell Transplant program is the first and only of its kind in the area and offers Upstate cancer patients and their families a leading-edge option close to home.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process and are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment. St. Francis offers a clinical trials program for its hematology and oncology patients. Your oncologist can help you determine if participating in a clinical trial is the best option for you.
- American Cancer Society
- Blood and Marrow Transplant Information Network
- International Myeloma Foundation
- Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation